Behrooz Parhami's website banner

Menu:

Behrooz Parhami's Blog & Books Page

calendar page

Page last updated on 2017 November 22

This page was created in 2009 as an outgrowth of the section entitled "Books Read or Heard" in my personal page. The rapid expansion of the list of books warranted devoting a separate page to it. Given that the book introductions and reviews constituted a form of personal blog, I decided to title this page "Blog & Books," to also allow discussion of interesting topics unrelated to books from time to time. Lately, non-book items (such as political news, tech news, puzzles, oddities, trivia, humor, art, and music) have formed the vast majority of the entries.

Entries in each section appear in reverse chronological order.

Blog entries for 2017
Blog entries for 2016
Archived blogs for 2015
Archived blogs for 2014
Archived blogs for 2012-13
Archived blogs up to 2011

Blog Entries for 2017

2017/11/22 (Wednesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Pilot restarting a stalled propeller in flight, 1960s Young lovers embrace at Arc de Triomphe in Paris, 1960 New York City neighborhood, 1900 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Pilot restarting a stalled propeller in flight, 1960s. [Center] Young lovers embrace at Arc de Triomphe, 1960 (Thomas Nebbia, National Geographic Creative). [Right] NYC neighborhood, 1900.
(2) Iran's Supreme Leader is greeted warmly by earthquake victims: This is the fake-news headline of pro-government media in Iran about Khamenei's visit to Kurdistan's earthquake-ravaged areas. Look at this photo more closely and you will see that he was greeted not by ordinary people but by clerics and military personnel.
(3) Nasrin Setoudeh addresses the former President of Iran: Ahmadinejad is now part of an opposition group that has staged a sit-in to protest arbitrary arrests and prosecutions, conveniently forgetting that many victims of arbitrary arrests and prosecutions during his administration are still in prison.
(4) UCSB grad student in ICU: Atieh Taheri, suffering from spinal muscular atrophy, is at the ICU of Santa Barbara's Cottage Hospital. She is a graduate of Sharif University of Technology's computer engineering program and a current UCSB graduate student. Her family intends to take her to Stanford Medical Center as soon as feasible, because she can get better specialist help there. GoFundMe is being used to raise funds to help with her medical expenses. Here is Atieh's Facebook page. And here is the FB page of her sister, Atefeh Taheri, where she posts updates on Atieh's status and lists a second method of helping out via PayPal.
(5) Ten brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Saying that you should have left US citizens imprisoned because they don't like you as a leader is repugnent.
- Trump's endorsement of the misogynist and pedophile Roy Moore is the lowest point in US presidential history.
- Here we go again: Foreign-sponsored bots meddling in the on-going net-neutrality debate.
- Rafsanjani's daughter visits a Baha'i Leader: The two became friends when they served time together.
- Apple scientists publish research on their highly secretive self-driving-car project.
- AAAS and other scientific groups condemn GOP's tax bill as anti-science and harmful to graduate education.
- Kudos to this alert truck driver and the designers of his truck's braking system for saving a child's life.
- Quote of the day: "The secret of success is making your vocation your vacation." ~ Mark Twain
- Desert spring and winter: California and Texas, respectively. [Photos]
- A rather well-done 14-minute tour of Iran's geography, history, and culture.
(6) Are we any closer to solving the "P vs. NP" problem? MIT's Ryan Williams seems to have taken a step toward solving the infamous problem in theoretical computer science by connecting the domains of computational complexity and algorithm design. He has used the derivation of lower bounds on how much time a particular kind of circuit needs for solving a class of problems to derive mathematical functions for which the same class of circuits is provably inefficient.
(7) A perfect evening for walking in Santa Barbara's downtown streets and on Stearns Wharf: Spending time with my sons, watching a most colorful sunset, and dining at Santa Barbara Craft Ramen.

2017/11/21 (Tuesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
The Bee Gees, 1959 Archery team, University of Chicago, 1935 A disabled war veteran begging in Berlin, 1923 (1) History in pictures: [Left] The Bee Gees, 1959. [Center] University of Chicago's archery team, 1935. [Right] A disabled war veteran begging in Berlin, 1923.
(2) The next step in self-driving car technology: Bringing the technology to older cars is the aim of a kit developed by the Canadian company X-Matik Inc. The kit, easily installed in about an hour, is said to provide an economical option for those who can't afford the sure-to-be-expensive initial self-driving car models.
(3) A pastor defended Roy Moore by citing the purity of young girls. Another said that more women are sexual predators than men!
(4) General McMaster believes that Trump has the intelligence of a kindergartner: "National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster mocked President Trump's intelligence at a private dinner with a powerful tech CEO, according to five sources with knowledge of the conversation."
(5) Eight brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Convoy of cars going to the aid of Kermanshah's earthquake victims in Iran creates a traffic jam.
- Quote of the day: "I don't know what I think until I write it down." ~ Joan Didion
- Question of the day: Will Trump repeal Obama's decisions on pardoning turkeys?
- Near-perfect frozen 40,000-year-old baby mammoth, discovered in 2007 by a reindeer herder in Siberia.
- Mehrnaz & Farnaz Dabirzadeh perform a cheerful traditional Persian tune: Parviz Meshkatian, composer.
- Disk drives from two old broken laptops, smashed with a hammer to make my private data inaccessible.
- I had not seen the leaning tower of Pisa and its adjacent cathedral from this angle before. Wonderful shot!
- Xi to Putin: "You were right—with this guy, [flattery] will get you ANYWHERE!" [Cartoon]
(6) Trophy hunting: A few days ago on NPR, someone observed that shooting an elephant with a high-power rifle is like shooting at a house: There's absolutely no challenge and it's not sports. I guess it's the same for other large, relatively slow-moving animals. [Image]
(7) Some photos from my visit to UCLA on Sudnay and Mondey (see the report of my lectures, posted on Monday 11/20). [The iconic Royce Hall and Powell Library] [A sampling of campus buildings, which include Dodd Hall (venue for Sunday's lecture) and the Humanities Building (venue for Monday afternoon's lecture, seen behind the trees of Dickson Court)] [Sculpture Garden]

2017/11/20 (Monday): My bilingual lectures at UCLA, today (in English) and yesterday (in Persian).
Flyer for the Persian lecture Photos taken at the lecture venues Flyer for the English lecture
"Computers and Challenges of Writing in Persian"
(Or "Fifty Years of Poor Penmanship: How Computers Struggled to Learn the Persian Script")
Speaker: Dr. Behrooz Parhami, Professor, UCSB [Photos in the middle above courtesy of Dr. Nayereh Tohidi]
Sunday, November 19, 2017, 4:00-6:00 PM, UCLA Dodd Hall, Room 121 (in Persian)
Monday, November 20, 2017, 2:00-4:00 PM, UCLA Humanities Building, Room 365 (in English)
On-line descriptions of the Persian and English lectures. Speaker's presentation slides (PDF file).
Modern Persian script is around 1200 years old and has undergone three developments in connection with modern technology. First, around 400 years ago, the introduction of printing presses in Iran necessitated significant changes to the script. Second, some seven decades ago, the script underwent additional changes for use with mechanical typewriters. Third, fifty-odd years ago, when banks and large governmental organizations imported electronic digital computers, the script had to be adapted to the fast-changing computer printer and display technologies. In all three instances, attributes of the Persian script made adaptation difficult and compromised the quality of the resulting script. Because changes made in connection with movable-type printers and typewriters subsequently affected the development of computer script, the talk covered aspects of all three transitions.
Movable-type fonts were developed based on the Naskh script, which was more suitable for the task than the artistic Nasta'liq. Each Persian letter was rendered in four variants (initial, middle, and final connected forms, as well as the solo form, not connected on either side) and realized in the form of small metal blocks that would be arranged into lines by a typesetter. Naskh script variants in the pre-printing era had many different shapes for each letter, which depended on context. Additionally, letters did not always appeared side by side, but rather were stacked on top of each other and their connections occurred as various heights within the written line. Movable fonts, on the other hand, had a horizontal connecting axis and connections between adjacent letters always occurred along that central line, thus making the shape of a letter independent of the surrounding letters, the four variants mentioned above notwithstanding.
With typewriters, even the four variants for each Persian letter were too many, because they would lead to some 120 forms (or 60 keys, assuming the use of a "shift" key) just for the letters, Add the digits, punctuation marks, and other special characters, and you see the problem. Fortunately, with very few exceptions (such as the letters "ein" and "ghein"), one can merge the two initial and middle forms, and do the same for the final and solo forms, to fit the resulting character set on a standard typewriter keyboard. This provision further degrades the quality of the resulting script, but over time, the ill effects are minimized through intelligent font design and human adaptation. IBM Selectric, a 1970s-vintage electric typewriter that introduced a golf-ball-like printing mechanism, already offered aesthetically-pleasing and very legible Persian script. Highly impressed, I chose the device to type an entire textbook in Persian, so as to give myself full technical and creative control over the final result.
Early computer displays had built-in "character generators" that drew letters and other symbols in geometric forms (a set of connected lines), which made it difficult to generate the Persian letters. There were also line-segment displays, used for calculators and other low-cost electronic devices. Early line-printers, used in computer centers, had rotating elements (drum, chain, and, later, daisy-chain, to name a few) that held a set of printable symbols. When a requisite symbol aligned with the print position as a result of rotation, a hammer mechanism would strike against the paper and ink ribbon, causing an impression of the letter to appear on paper. All oi these printing schemes would leave an undesirable space (corresponding to the mechanical spacing of the hammers) between adjacent Persian letters that should have been connected. Many ingenious schemes were proposed, implemented, and, occasionally abandoned, as we struggled to overcome technological limitations on the path to producing high-quality Persian output.
The beginnings of a solution presented itself when dot-matrix display units and printers were introduced. The idea is similar to what had been used for centuries in the Kufi script, which allowed artists to write decoratively on mosques and other important buildings in Persian and Arabic, using the juxtaposition of small square tiles of two or more colors. The simplest black-and-white dot-matrix may have 7 rows and 5 columns of dots. In both displaying and printing of information, a subset of the 35 dots would be rendered black and the others are left white, thus creating an approximate representation of the desired symbol. The simple 7 x 5 matrix is adequate for uppercase Latin letters and the larger 9 x 9 matrix also offers a reasonable representation of lower-case letters. Wide variation of letter widths and heights in Persian necessitates the use of a larger matrix to achieve the same aesthetic and legibility quality, which is now quite practical with high-definition displays and high-resolution printers, that even in their cheapest forms, now routinely offer 600 dots-per-inch quality.
The talk concluded with an overview of the current status of computer display and printing for the Persian script, features of the fonts provided by various applications, and areas where more work is still needed. Foremost among such areas is the resolution of problems in bilingual display/printing and nagging incompatibilities that cause formatting headaches when text is copied between various applications. A Q&A and discussion period ended the session.
[This Facebook post also contains a Persian version of the lecture summary presented above.]

2017/11/19 (Sunday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Easy Strimko with a 5-by-5 grid Medium Strimko with a 6-by-6 grid Hard Strimko with a 7-by-7 grid (1) Strimko, a Soduku-like puzzle that can be more challenging: As in Soduku, we have an n x n array of cells that should be filled using the numbers 1 through n, so that no row and no column contains repeated numbers. Instead of rectangular boxes in Soduku, we have cells interconnected via lines in arbitrary patterns. A set of interconnected cells also should contain no repetition. A typical puzzle has some of the cells already filled in (just as in Soduku) and you need to fill in the blank cells. Try the three puzzles above, ranging from easy 5 x 5 to hard 7 x 7. If you like these examples, you can find more at Puzzles.com.
(2) On Islamization of humanities and social sciences: Iran's Supreme Leader and his cronies want to purge their ideological rivals through the Islamization of university curricula, but their slogan "Islamization of humanities" has it backwards, according to Dr. Hossein Kamaly, quoted in this Persian-language article. Humanization of Islamic thought is the right way to go.
(3) Editing of genes inside the human body may become a reality: Previously, genes were edited in the lab, with the goal of re-incorporating them back into the patient's body. Now, a corrective gene is paired with two zinc finger proteins, which act as a kind of molecular scissors, cutting DNA to create a place where the new gene can insert itself.
(4) Columbia grad student Amanda Rose does the calculations to show how the GOP tax bill will reduce her usable income, after taxes and rent, from about $21K to approximately $6K per year, because of taxes due on her tuition and fee waivers. The last number on the page, showing the increase in her tax liability, should be 361% (the new number is 4.61 times the old one, but the increase is 361%). The same tax plan gives private-jet owners tax breaks for the costs of storage, maintenance, and fueling!
(5) The oldest piece of writing to use the word "America" appears on a 2D printed globe made by a German cartographer 510 years ago. The 2D globe will be auctioned off by Christie's on December 13, 2017.
(6) Pioneering hardware and software engineers: Howard Aiken (hardware architect, seated, center), Grace Murray Hopper (software engineer, seated, second from right), and others from the US Department of Defense in front of Harvard Mark I, 1944. [Image] [Image credit: Encyclopedia Britannica]
(7) UCSB Reads: The book chosen for community reading and discussion on our campus in 2018 is Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren, who chronicles her coming of age as a scientist, juxtaposing her scientific autobiography with beautifully-rendered meditations on the life of plants. The book, already on my to-read list, will now move forward in the queue! Community events related to this book will include a free lecture by Hope Jahren at UCSB's Campbell Hall on April 3, 2018.
(8) Headed to Los Angeles for lectures at UCLA, today 11/19 in Persian and tomorrow 11/20 in English.

2017/11/18 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Inside a passenger plane, 1930 Before alarm clocks were affordable, 'knocker-ups' were used to wake people early in the morning, UK, ca. 1900 Londoners celebrate Christmas Day 1940 in an underground bomb shelter (1) History in pictures: [Left] Inside a passenger plane, 1930. [Center] Before alarm clocks were affordable, 'knocker-ups' were used to wake people early in the morning, UK, ca. 1900. [Right] Londoners celebrate Christmas Day 1940 in an underground bomb shelter.
(2) The anti-press President: "Most mornings, the early Twitter tweets of amateur President Donald Trump are like the loud passing of intestinal gas. They stink for a while but drift away. Thursday might have been the exception for this television-obsessed authoritarian." ~ From an article in The Observer
(3) As they say, people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones: Trump's unwise tweet about Al Franken has caused the media to revisit the history of sexual misconduct allegations against him.
(4) When Trump compared the upset victory of the young PM of New Zealand to his own, she replied to his face, in jest, "But no one marched when I was elected!" Welcome, New Zealand, to the list of failing countries!
(5) Eight brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Trump gives Palestine 90 days to get serious about peace talks with Israel, or its DC office will be closed.
- End days: How NASA monitors space for events that could end the world.
- Three-dimensional 3D-printed naonmagnets allow more compact data storage and processing.
- Machine-learning is being applied to the problem of diagnosing supercomputer malfunctions.
- Quantum computing with molecules allows quicker searching of unsorted data sets.
- Tesla unveils electric semi-truck with 500-mile range: Working on 400-mile charging scheme in 30 min.
- Fun fact of the day: In the US, 92% of Americans celebrate Christmas, including 81% of non-Christians.
- Cartoon of the day: The Gettysburg Address, delivered Trump style! [Image]
(6) [Political humor] Donald Trump: "I saw first-hand that the Great Wall of China works. During my visit there, I didn't encounter a single Mexican." ~ Seen on the Internet in various forms
(7) Given the welcome attention to the serious problem of sexual misconduct, the following would not have been tolerated, had they occurred in late 2017: Bill Clinton's continued presidency, Clarence Thomas' confirmation, Donald Trump's candidacy.
(8) Jordan Burroughs, American world and Olympic champion in freestyle wrestling who went to Kermanshah for the 2017 World Cup, sends thoughts and prayers to the people of Kermanshah in Persian on Instagram.
(9) Signing off with four black-and-white shots by photographer Helen Levitt. Titles are mine.
[Boy and the drama queen] [Curiosity killed the cat] [Couple on subway car] [Street performance]

2017/11/17 (Friday): Here are six items of potential interest.
A Japanese-American family returning home from an internment camp in Idaho One of the rare photographs of a slave ship. This was done by Marc Ferrez in 1882 Women protesting the forced hijab in Iran, days after the 1979 Revolution (1) History in pictures: [Left] A Japanese-American family returning home from an internment camp in Idaho. [Center] One of the rare photographs of a slave ship. This was done by Marc Ferrez in 1882. [Right] Women protesting the forced hijab in Iran, days after the 1979 Revolution.
(2) Donald Trump's tweet: "The Al Frankenstien (sic) picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?"
Great question! Fortunately, the ambiguity does not exist about where your hands would go on a woman!
(3) Some Alabama Republicans are abandoning Roy Moore: They state their respect for the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" but maintain it does not mean "electable until proven guilty."
(4) Jared Kushner is privy to the country's most important national-security secrets while having only an interim security clearance. He has not been given a full clearance yet. Given the just-released info about his contacts with WikiLeaks, there is a chance he will never be fully cleared for access to top-secret information.
(5) Seven brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Massive flash floods in Greece leave 15 dead: Several people are reported missing.
- Da Vinci painting auctioned for a record $450M: The last increase that led to the winning bid was $50M!
- Robot gymnastics: This Boston Dynamics robot does a backflip.
- What a concept! A president-to-be reading newspapers, rather than watching television. [Photo]
- Ahad Panahi's calligraphic rendering of a Rumi verse, reading "Kay shavad een ravaan-e man saaken?"
- Maybe Trump will succeed in draining the swamp, including the section of it that is him and his cabinet!
- Cartoon of the day: What the explorers were looking for. [By John Atkinson] [Image] [Image]
(6) Today's lecture on AI and computer security: Speaking under the title "AI and Computer Security: Lessons, Challenges, and Future Directions," Dr. Dawn Song, EECS Professor at UC Berkeley, discussed how AI can be used to improve or hurt computer security and how security techniques can be introduced into AI systems to make them less vulnerable to adversarial interference.
In the area of applying AI to the security domain, examples were provided of how deep learning can be used to spot security threats before they do damage to our systems, as well as how hackers can benefit from AI method to penetrate relatively secure systems that may not be vulnerable to established methods of attack. A case in point is the recent progress in the design of bots that can solve captcha codes.
In the reverse direction, many research teams have revealed the extreme vulnerability of deep learning methods to adversarial interference. One of the speaker's slides showed that when photographs of different individuals are compressed for storage economy and then decompressed before use, a knowledgeable adversary can modify the images slightly, in a way that is invisible to a human observer, so that the compression-decompression sequence always leads to the same targeted image, effectively defeating a face-recognition system. Dr. Song concluded by enumerating the many open problems that exist at the boundary between AI and computer security.
Even though I learned much from this talk, there were two aspects of it that bothered me. First, just as we have cheapened "A"s and "B"s at our universities through grade inflation, we have cheapened the designation "distinguished speaker/lecture" in recent years. Not every successful or prolific researcher is "distinguished," a designation, that, in my view, requires having been around the block a few times, so to speak, and being able to synthesize ideas from a broad range of disciplines.
Second, the speaker was very difficult to understand, given her accent, tone of voice, and fast speech. One of the greatest time/resource investments that young researchers can make in their careers is to take professional training courses in voice/speech and public speaking. Such an investment is particularly important for those who have to speak regularly in a language different from their primary one.

2017/11/16 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Aerial view of Manhattan, 1951 British soldier on a horse in zebra camouflage, German East Africa during World War I Two million people gathered in NYC's Times Square on May 8, 1945, to celebrate the end of World War II (1) History in pictures: [Left] Aerial view of Manhattan, 1951. [Center] British soldier on a horse in zebra camouflage, German East Africa during World War I. [Right] Two million people gathered in NYC's Times Square on May 8, 1945, to celebrate the end of World War II.
(2) Dictators don't like social media: Among social media apps, the largest number of countries (12) have blocked WhatsApp and the largest number (27) have arrested Facebook users. [Source: E&T magazine, issue of November 2017]
(3) Some facts about the "Uranium One" deal, from Fox News. [Yes, that's Fox News, which I rarely use as a source, but here it might just stop conservatives from spewing their usual hatred against the Clintons.]
(4) Sign of the times: If you ever frequent this business, make sure to point out where your eyes are and stress that you want a RETINAL exam, just in case!
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Censored topics by country: A few (e.g., China and Iran) censor everything. Others are more selective.
- Kurdish women engaged in clean-up and reconstruction after the devastating magnitude-7.3 quake.
- Borowitz report: "Trump warns that dumping Roy Moore could start a dangerous trend of believing women."
- The Sound (and Visions) of Silence: Mesmerizing NASA footage, set to the Simon & Garfunkel song.
- Cartoon of the day: BRB note on Elon Musk's office door: "Gone to NY, back in 10 mins."
- The Chase Palm Park carousel will be leaving Santa Barbara in a couple of weeks; free rides on 12/2-3.
(6) A story from one year ago, today: Many fake-news posts of the past couple of years make more sense now, given what we have learned about the Russian meddling in our 2016 election. The year-old post begins thus: "Did you read the Denver Guardian story ... ," referring to a nonexistent newspaper.
(7) [Humor] Sharing what a neighbor wrote in a community newsletter: We Silver Surfers know that sometimes we have trouble with our computers. Yesterday I had a problem, so I called Georgie, the 11-year-old next door, whose bedroom looks like Mission Control, and asked him to come over. Georgie clicked a couple of buttons and solved the problem. As he was walking away, I called after him, "So, what was wrong?" He replied, "It was and ID ten T error." I didn't want to appear stupid, but nonetheless inquired, "An ID ten T error? What's that? In case I need to fix it again." Georgie grinned. "Haven't you ever heard of an ID ten T error before?" "No," I replied. "Write it down and I think you'll figure it out." So, I wrote it down: ID10T; I used to like Georgie.
(8) Attitudes are really changing: Singer Drake interrupted his concert to warn a man who was touching the women in the audience inappropriately. It is now everybody's business to stop sexual assaults.
(9) Today was my cleaning lady's last day. She is moving in a few days to be closer to her family members. She recruited a local friend to continue her work at my house. I will miss this very conscientious and hard-working woman. My daughter baked a blueberry bread/cake for her as one of the parting gifts. [Photos]

2017/11/15 (Wednesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Mount Rushmore, as the carving project begins, ca. 1929 School playground equipment in the year 1900 Statue of Liberty, being constructed in France (1) History in pictures: [Left] Mount Rushmore, hland and Japan take positions 3 and 4 with entries that are not only a tad more powerful than the US's Titan (at #5), but also more energy-efficient. [Image]
(3) Russia's Ministry of Defense posts, then deletes, footage from a computer game as 'evidence' that the US is helping ISIS!
(4) Entertainment industry figures accused of sexual harassment: Most of the cases on this list are still at the accusation stage and no verdict is implied, but the list is useful as a way of seeing the extent of the problem.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Trump better be careful in going after critics from prior administrations. There will be a next administration!
- Twelve lawyers are being hired to start the process of seizing land for Trump's border wall.
- The United States was one of 18 countries to have its elections influenced by foreign bots.
- Iranian poet Tahirih recognized as an early feminist and a role model for Western suffragette movements.
- Observation: We are no longer allowed or able to fix our electronic gadgets.
- Patent diagram from 1891 settles proper use of a toilet paper roll (no more fights about "over" or "under").
(6) Earthquake update: Reports from the magnitude-7.3 earthquake devastation in Iran's western province of Kermanshah continue to come in. Here is a video report from a village that suffered near-total destruction. No government aid has arrived there yet, according to the villagers. Here are more images of the destruction. And here is how to help the victims. Not many international relief organizations have a presence in, or are allowed to go to, the devastation zone, particularly the epicenter, Sar-Pol Zahab. Moms Against Poverty (MAP) is a reputable organization that can help, and much help is needed according to pleas for help coming from the region. Amid the sad news, there are also glimmers of hope: Kianoush Rostami, Iran's Olympic weightlifting champion, is auctioning off his gold medal to raise money for earthquake relief efforts.
(7) Concert at the Music Bowl: UCSB Gamelan Ensemble performed at noon today. I don't much care for Gamelan music, which comes primarily from Indonesia, but the kinds of instruments used (mostly percussion) and the intricate playing techniques fascinate me. [Photos] Almost all Gamelan music pieces are soft and dreamy, with this dance tune being a rare exception. [Fun fact: More Muslims live in Indonesia than in the entire Middle East combined.] Taking the library shortcut on the way from the Music Bowl to my office, I was asked by a young lady attending a desk in the lobby whether I wanted to share on a special display my thoughts about what I am thankful for. So, I wrote something on a brown leaf. If you know me well, you may be able to spot my leaf in this photo, either from the content or from the handwriting.

2017/11/14 (Tuesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
R2D2 and C3PO visit Big Bird on Sesame Street, 1970s Colorized photo of Captain Walter Young and his crew in front of their caricatures on their B-29 Superfortress, 1944 The first color photograph of the Sphinx and the Pyramid of Giza, 1913 (1) History in pictures: [Left] R2D2 and C3PO visit Big Bird on Sesame Street, 1970s. [Center] Colorized photo of Captain Walter Young and his crew in front of their caricatures on their B-29 Superfortress, 1944. [Right] The first color photograph of the Sphinx and the Pyramid of Giza, 1913.
(2) Today is "National Run-for-Office Day": Make a difference by running for a local or national office. Run for dog-catcher, if you must. Anything will do. Just act!
(3) At least four people and the gunman are dead after shootings in multiple locations, including an elementary school, in Northern California's Tehama County, according to the Assistant Sheriff. [Hush, don't talk about gun control; this isn't the time!]
(4) One-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Report on Iran's 7.3 earthquake, showing widespread destruction, including major cracks in a dam.
- John McCain tweet: "Human rights obviously not a priority in @POTUS's meeting with Dutert—again, sad."
- Jeff Sessions is either lying or has a very poor memory. Either way, he is unfit to serve as a cabinet member.
- Bill Gates invests $50 million to start a wide-ranging battle against dementia.
- Universities oppose the GOP tax plan over its adverse effects on endowments and student loans.
- Broadcom's new GPS chip will bring a resolution of 30 cm to smartphones in 2018.
- Selfie with Hitler: A museum in Indonesia removes Hitler's wax figure in front of Auschwitz after backlash.
- TSA agent risks his life to remove a smoking backpack from an airport security-check area.
- An antique car I encountered on the street during my afternoon walk. [Photo]
- Comic strip of the day: includes several spot-on observations. ["The Modern World"]
- Remnants of 260M-year-old forest discovered in Antarctica: The trees lived before dinosaurs.
- These "Flying Pencils" were installed on the UCSB campus by Peter Logan in 1986.
(5) Cartoon of the day: "... there won't be any dividends this quarter due to increased operating expenses ... we have to buy a whole new bunch of Congressmen ..." [Image]
(6) Iranian earthquake: Kurdish women use their resilience and improvisation talents to make up for shortage of tents to weather chilly nights outside their earthquake-damaged homes near Kermanshah. [Photo]
(7) Inverted priorities: Anti-riot forces arrive in some western Iran earthquake areas before search-and-rescue groups. Foreign reporters are banned from the region. [Photos of the devastation]
(8) Pacific Views, UCSB Library Speaker Series: Professor Yasamin Mostofi (UCSB Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering) spoke this afternoon under the title "Robotics Meets Wireless Communications: Opportunities and Challenges." These photos show some of the speaker's slides, as well as sweeping views of the campus and Pacific Ocean from the 8th-floor venue at the campus library (the Pacific Views Room). Professor Mostofi outlined her recent NSF-supported research that uses a combination of drones or other robotic vehicles and wi-fi to solve various practical problems, such as seeing beyond/around walls or counting human occupants in a particular environment. These problems are solvable with radar, but use of wi-fi constitutes a more cost-effective and broadly-accessible method. Radar can provide both directional and distance information, but wi-fi supplies only the signal strength as the sole clue, thus requiring sophisticated signal-processing techniques to deduce the information of interest. [Professor Mostofi's Web page]

2017/11/13 (Monday): Here are four items of potential interest.
A veteran and his son gaze at the Golden Gate Bridge from the shoreline of the nearby San Francisco VA Medical Center, 1943 Children cross the river using pulleys on their way to school in the outskirts of Modena, Italy, 1959 A group of immigrants traveling aboard a ship celebrate as they catch their first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, 1910 (1) History in pictures: [Left] A veteran and his son gaze at the Golden Gate Bridge from the shoreline of the nearby San Francisco VA Medical Center, 1943. [Center] Children cross the river using pulleys on their way to school in the outskirts of Modena, Italy, 1959. [Right] A group of immigrants traveling aboard a ship celebrate as they catch their first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, 1910.
(2) The Utah teapot: This image is the result of a 3D graphical model created by Martin Newel for his PhD thesis in the mid-1970s. The model, which made appearances in several well-known animated films and earned the moniker of "World's Most Famous Teapot" foretold of mind-boggling advances in computer graphics. [Image credit: IEEE Spectrum magazine, issue of November 2017]
(3) One-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Magnitude-7.3 earthquake kills at least 300 in the Iran-Iraq border area.
- Message from Kermanshah, Iran: "We don't need condolences, we need help." [Photo]
- Donald Trump Jr. was in contact with WikiLeaks for months, requesting info and suggesting leak ideas.
- Trump believes Putin's election meddling denials but disbelieves US intelligence that indicates otherwise!
- Mass approval of Trump-branded businesses in China raises questions about conflict of interest.
- Random thought for the day: Now, no one can say that Trump didn't go to Vietnam!
- Viola Brand: German champion of artistic cycling, a combination of bicycling, gymnastics and ballet.
- Condensation-trail of a plane flying below high cirrus clouds, with a low Sun casting an upward shadow.
- Persian poetry: I spent some time on Saturday, browsing a book of poems by Parvin Etesami. [Samples]
- Percent of college graduates in STEM fields that are women, by country. [Chart]
- Cartoon of the day: Is anything real if there's no record of it on social media? [Image]
- Wow, the sun is already down at 4:45 this afternoon! [Photos]
Cover image for 'Option B,' by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant (4) Book review: Sandberg, Sheryl and Adam Grant, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, unabridged audiobook on 5 CDs, read by Elisa Donovan, Random House Audio, 2017.
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg emerged as a champion of women's empowerment with her best-selling book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. This new book by Sandberg and her co-author, a Wharton professor, relates what she learned about loss and ways of coping with it, after the sudden death of her husband of 11 years David Goldberg in a freak exercise accident at a hotel gym. Her task was made more difficult by the fact that she had to help her two children cope with the loss as well.
The thesis of the book is that our resilience isn't finite, but resembles a muscle that we can strengthen, regardless of how much it has already been used. Sandberg's personal experience and Grant's research provide coping mechanisms and practical strategies to bounce back and find joy. The strength to cope comes in part from our built-in mechanisms and partly from external support.
In a way, there isn't much new in this book. Humans have evolved to cope with loss and adversity, and there are many people around the world who have coped and are coping with even greater losses. Yet, each personal story provides a new angle and fresh ammunition to attack our sense of loss and disappointment. The fresh angle in Sandberg's story is her ability to cope, while engaged in a fast-moving and high-pressure business environment in Silicon Valley.
A key piece of advice that stuck in my mind is that each person should try to recover at his/her own comfortable pace, that is, one should not rush it. A second take-away is not to feel guilt for seeking and finding joy after the loss.
The Option-B Web site provides a community for those struggling with loss or adversity. There is also an affiliated Facebook page for coping with grief.

2017/11/12 (Sunday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Wonderful example of Persian calligraphic art (1) Wonderful example of Persian calligraphic art: The artist's name is inscribed on the bottom left, but I can't quite make it out.
(2) "International Relations," a comedy in many acts: Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me "old," when I would NEVER call him "short and fat?" Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend - and maybe someday that will happen! [Donald Trump tweet from Vietnam]
(4) Tonight, I attended a musical program entitled "Montage 2017" at the Trinity Episcopal Church, downtown Santa Barbara, in which UCSB's Department of Music showcased the talent of its faculty members and students. Following are some videos from the program.
["The Speaking Drums," performed by Shashank Aswath on tabla] [Performance by Petra Persolja of "Venezia e Napoli: Tarantella" (Franz Liszt) on piano] [Arabian music, performed by Sam Khattar, voice/oud, Scott Marcus, Ney, Sue Rudnicki, tabla, and Solmaz Soleimani, violin] ["Trio in A minor, Op 114: Allegro" (Johannes Brahms), performed by Jonathan Moerschel, viola, Jennifer Kloetzel, cello, and Robert Koenig, piano] [Traditional Iranian music on santoor by Bahram Osqueezadeh]
(3) Trump takes back his comment that he believes Putin's words over the assessment of US intelligence agencies: Like the taking back of his Charlottesville comments, someone has told him that he made a boo-boo and, again, he took back his words in a way that was obviously half-hearted. He did not say that he trusted US intelligence agencies, only the leaders he has installed there. One of those leaders, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, has explicitly accepted the intelligence assessment that Russia meddled in the US election.
(5) Introduction to Neuroeconomics: How the Brain Makes Decisions (weeks 6-7):
Having reported on the overall course structure and my experience in weeks 1-3 through my 10/24 post and weeks 4-5 on 10/29, I briefly describe the contents of the next two weeks here. There are 9 weeks in all, so I will offer one last post for the final two weeks.
[Week 6] Dual process theory of decision-making: Toward a neuroeconomics perspective
a. Dual process theory (Valuation system at a glance; Dual process theory and neuroeconomics) Real values are subjective; when different outcomes are possible with corresponding probabilities, a weighted sum is used to derive the expected value for comparisons and eventual decision-making. Emotions play an important role in decision-making through affecting our valuations and probability estimates. Decisions are intuitive (system 1: emotional, heuristic-based, fast, parallel, effortless) or rational (system 2: neutral, rule-governed, slow, serial, effortful). Ironically, for complex decisions, system 1 yields better results.
b. The role of DLPFC in self-control (Modulation of the value signal by the DLPFC; Self-regulation & DLPFC)
Brain activity pattern is substantially different for self-controllers (who reject tasty, unhealthy food) versus non-self-controllers. Decisions do not always follow self-interest (as economics would predict) but also consider fairness. Experiments in which one person is given a sum of money, which s/he splits in two parts, offering one of them to a second person. If the second person rejects the offer, neither one gets any money. The second person typically rejects small offers of less than 20%, despite losing money as a result. The average acceptable offer, across many different culutres, is around 40-50%. Anterior insula (area involved in negative emotions and disgust) is activated when there is an unfair offer. System 1 (emotional) is particularly sensitive to immediate rewards and tends to severely discount delayed rewards, whereas system 2 (rational) is better at weighing delayed versus immediate rewards.
c. Guest lecture by Samuel McClure (Dual or single; expert opinion)
Arguments in favor of dual process theory vs. single decision-making process using various subsystems.
[Week 7] Decision-making under risk: Toward a neuroeconomic mechanism
a. Risk and the anticipatory affect model (Risk as uncertainty of the outcome; Anticipatory affect model)
The term "risk" is used when the probabilities of various outcomes are known; otherwise, we have ambiguity. Through repeated sampling and learning, one can gradually turn ambiguity into risk. Risk is highest when the probability is around 0.5 (very low probabilities or near-certainty entails less risk). In risk-return models, the valuation is reduced by b times the risk, where b is the index of risk aversion.
b. Risk aversion (Neuroeconomics of risk aversion; "Decision weights," framing effect and prospect theory)
Humans and other animals are generally risk-averse. They might choose a smaller reward that is certain over an uncertain reward with a larger expected value. Nucleus accumbens when activated leads to more openness to risk. Prospect theory suggests that both probability estimations and valuations are non-linear. We tend to overestimate small probabililties and underestimate large probabilities. Also, we underestimate gains (leading to joy) and overestimate losses (pain). One way to measure risk aversion is via the "certainty equivalent" measure. If you choose a $30 certain reward over an expected reward of $50 ($0 or $100, with equal probabilities, say), you are more risk-averse than someone who would require $45 to choose the certain outcome under the same conditions.
c. Guest lecture by Brian Knutson (The nucleus accumbens: Rewards and risks)
Rewards prediction totally unrelated to the choice at hand (e.g., seeing arousing photos) can push someone to more risk-taking. Conversely, negative stimulation can trigger greater risk aversion. Another example is sunny versus rainy weather or running into someone you like/hate affecting decisions.

2017/11/11 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Young couples dancing, 1950 French actors Alain Delon and Brigitte Bardot, 1968 Young couple at a drive-in theater, 1961 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Young couples dancing, 1950. [Center] French actors Alain Delon and Brigitte Bardot, 1968. [Right] Young couple at a drive-in theater, 1961.
(2) Happy Veterans' Day! This ageless quote is appropriate for today, when we honor soldiers and veterans, who make sacrifices in fighting wars, while generals and politicians are remembered in historical records as heroes: "In war the heroes always outnumber the soldiers ten to one." ~ H. L. Mencken
(3) Saudi Arabia's transition of power from Alzheimer's-afflicted 80-somethings to a brash, inexperienced prince is worrisome: With 70% of the Saudis under age 30 and 25% unemployed, the snail-paced reforms of the past no longer cut it, but one corrupt prince (who once impulsively bought a $550M yacht from a Russian) arresting 7 others for corruption is like Donald Trump suddenly firing seven cabinet secretaries for lying, as observed by NYT's Thomas Friedman.
(4) Political humor: Saudi princes accused of corruption are imprisoned at Ritz-Carlton Hotel. They are told to behave, or else they will be transferred to Marriott! [Video]
(5) Ten brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Trump blames previous US administrations for what a year ago he called "China raping our country"!
- The wealthiest 3 Americans (Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet) hold more wealth then the bottom 50%.
- Mass shootings aren't about mental illness, but about easy access to killing machines. [Image]
- Fascinating discovery of how a fungal parasite takes over an ant's body, turning it into a zombie ant.
- Clearest-ever 3D images of neurons firing in the brain recorded, using laser technology.
- From the "corporations are people" bunch: Their new tax plan says that corporations are above people!
- Disney rejection letter to a woman job applicant, 1938. [Note: I'm uncertain about the letter's veracity.]
- Someone's excited to be singing in the choir: Good thing she is standing on the side! [Video]
- Cartoon of the day: Special section for mass-shooting condolence cards in your favorite store. [Image]
- A selfless teacher helps little students on their way to school across a stream in a rural part of Iran.
(6) An indictment for Mike Flynn now seems likely: He and his son were reportedly offered millions to help remove from the US a Muslim cleric wanted by Turkey.
(7) Information exchange via shoelaces: During the Cold War, CIA agents used a method of communication based on how their shoelaces were tied. [Image]
(8) China is expanding its global reach: By investing in road and rail networks, along with ports and other transportation infrastructures, China is connecting itself to the world and increasing its international influence. [Image credit: Time magazine, issue of November 13, 2017]
(9) The floodgate of sexual misconduct allegations has opened: It seems that the downfall of several very powerful men (and in very few cases, women) in various domains has emboldened victims to step out of the shadows. Sure, there may be false allegations mixed in with valid ones, but even if we unrealistically estimate that half of the accusations are false, we still have a serious social problem to contend with. The despicable behavior of the men accused of improper sexual conduct will no doubt lead to a welcome behavioral change. Initially, the change will be fear-based, in the sense of men not wanting to get in trouble with their families or to compromise their careers. But, over time, with the new generation being raised to be aware of issues related to sexual aggression and abuse of power, the behavioral change will be internalized as part of a cultural shift. A worrisome part of the new revelations is that some Republicans/conservatives dismiss them as politically motivated or, worse, say that nothing is wrong with predatory sexual behavior (some going as far as citing the Bible about sexual relations with minors being okay).

2017/11/10 (Friday): Report on yesterday afternoon's panel discussion entitled "Is There Any Good News About Fake News?" at UCSB's Mosher Alumni House: [This report is subject to updates and corrections]
Photos from panel discussion entitled 'Is There Any Good News About Fake News?' A standing-room-only audience heard the views of four panelists, joined by panel organizers/moderators, Professors Cynthia Stohl and Bruce Bimber, the current and founding Directors of the UCSB Center for Information Technology and Society. Seated from left to right in the accompanying photo (the moderators are on the far right and Leila J. Rupp, UCSB's Interim Dean of Social Sciences, opening the session, stands on the far left) are:
- Yochai Benkler, Prof. Entrepreneurial Legal Studies, Harvard Law School; Co-Dir. Berkman-Klein Ctr. for Internet and Society
- Maggie Farley, Creator of "Factitious," a game that tests users' skill in detecting fake news; formerly of the LA Times
- Eugene Kiely, Dir. Factcheck.org; formerly of USA Today and Philadelphia Inquirer
- Miriam Metzger, Prof. Communication, UCSB; Dir. Information and Society PhD Emphasis
The short answer is "yes." We have become accustomed to exercising caution in accepting opinions about medical treatments (hence, the prevalence of seeking second opinions) or how to plan our finances. Yet, until last year, we routinely trusted any news that came to us from news organizations whose names were even vaguely familiar.
Stohl began the proceedings by outlining how the panel, and the day-long gathering of researchers, of which the public panel was a part, came about, naming and thanking all those who played a part in making the event a reality. She also set the stage for presentations by the four panelists and the Q&A segment that followed.
Benklar showed a number of slides visualizing, in the form of large graphs, the results of studies on how news sources link to one another and the impact of fake news on the linking structure. One interesting observation is that fake-news sources, far from being isolated bad actors, influence how other sources cover the news (e.g., by running stories refuting the fake news items). His "good news" was the fact that we are making progress in understanding fake news from a scientific perspective.
Farley spoke about her efforts, through designing the Tinder-like game "Factitious" (where you swipe left or right to indicate whether you consider a story fake news), in the area of educating the public on how to recognize fake news. Among the results of her study are the fact that the source of a news story has a singularly important effect on whether we believe it and that many people share news stories having read only the headline, thus making the wording of the headline very important.
Kiely mentioned that even though the public has only recently become interested in fact-checking, Factcheck.org foresaw the importance of checking the veracity of news stories since its inception in 2007 and was very active throughout the onslaught of fake news during Obama years. The good news is that social media have begun cooperating with fact-checking organizations to flag suspicious stories as "Disputed." Another piece of good news is a collaboratively prepared list of fake news sources.
Metzger had more good news than the other panelists, some of them selfish (such as her long-term area of research on credibility having been validated) and the spread and deepening of our knowledge about the role played by social-media companies, how people process information, and the nature of journalism. Other benefits include greater collaboration between fact-checking organizations and the entry of researchers from various disciplines into the field.
Bimber asked two questions to begin the Q&A segment of the panel.
Q1: Of the disciplines tackling the fake-news problem, which one is the most-likely source of possible solutions?
Q2: Given cognitive limits, are citizens up to the task of sorting out so much information and disinformation?
As expected, the two questions elicited a variety of reactions from the panel. We humans have developed heuristics to simplify the task of processing vast amounts of information, and resorting to tribalism and trusting a small number of sources (friends, people with the same mindset) are our ways of reducing the effort. Of course, going to the other extreme of being skeptical about everything is not helpful, so we need to work on a happy medium. Another difficulty related to human cognition is that, even after we are shown (with incontrovertible proof) that something is false, the false information is solidified in our mind with repetition.
An audience member asked whether our focus on fake news in the context of modern US politics is too short-sighted, elaborating that we should seek to learn about the problem in historical and geographic contexts (how our ancestors and other countries have dealt with the problem). It turns out that France as well as 11 US states mandate media literacy programs that produce more informed citizens in the area of consuming news. In Germany, the strength of public broadcasting prevents fake news stories from gaining a foothold. In the UK, BBC serves the same function.
I end my report with two related anecdotes. Today, on NPR (hope it's not fake news!), I heard a story about how the Chinese government is setting up a system that assigns a "social score" to each citizen based on his/her activities, purchases, social-media interactions, and so on, in a manner similar to the credit score in the US. Presumably, the social score can then be used to judge people's trustworthiness. Most of us realize that this is a very dangerous scheme, but, ironically, the Chinese consider this "transparent" system an improvement over secret data-gathering on individuals by the Communist Party! The second anecdote is about the book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do (by Charles Duhigg) which helps explain why we process information the way we do. I am listening to the audiobook version of the title now and will review it in the near future.

2017/11/09 (Thursday): Here are six items of potential interest.
The American soldier behind an iconic kiss photo The nurse behind that same iconic kiss photo Iconic movie kiss from 'Breakfast at Tiffany's.' (1) History in pictures: [Left] The American soldier behind an iconic kiss photo. [Center] The nurse behind that same iconic kiss photo. [Right] Iconic movie kiss from "Breakfast at Tiffany's," 1961.
(2) Grad students will be hurt by the GOP tax plan: Most live based on a stipend/salary of ~$20-30K, along with tuition waivers. The waivers will be taxed as income in the new plan, reducing their net incomes.
(3) Russia undergoes a history war in parallel with the US: At issue is how to handle Lenin's corpse, as the country celebrates halfheartedly, the 100th anniversary of its October Revolution in November.
(4) Tweet of the day, by Erica Buist (I couldn't have said it better): "Why not just ban guns and when people are upset about it, just send them thoughts and prayers? If 'thoughts and prayers' are good enough for people who've lost their families then [they're] good enough for people who've lost their guns."
(5) Ten brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Governor Brown appoints an Iranian-American woman to the Superior Court of Santa Clara County.
- Volkswagen and Google expand their quantum-computing research partnership.
- Exceptionalism: Syria to join the Paris Climate Agreement, leaving the US as the only country opposing it.
- California, the EU, and China to create a common carbon market to fight climate change.
- Santa Barbara, CA, just elected its 5th female mayor in a row: Ads against Cathy Murillo were super-nasty.
- This Cayman Islands building is home to 20,000 tax-dodging corporations, according to Bernie Sanders.
- UCSB is hiring two tenure-track assistant professors in computer engineering.
- Just-elected NJ and VA governors are utterly unqualified: Neither one has any reality-show experience!
- Santa Barbara's current sales-tax rate of 7.75% will increase by 1% on April 1, 2018.
- The White House blames losing Republican candidates for not fully embracing the Trump agenda.
(6) Interesting facts from a sexual harassment training course I completed as part of the University of California requirements for senior staff with supervisory responsibilities: Of stalkers pursuing victims, 42% are acquaintances, 28% are current/former partners, 9% are strangers (in the remaining cases, the victim did not know or could not identify the stalker).
(7) Historian and presidential biographer John Meacham speaking on Trump: Meacham's American Lion, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning biography of Andrew Jackson, has been chosen for Santa Barbara Public Library's Book Club discussion ahead of Meacham's visit to give a lecture at UCSB's Campbell Hall on November 16, 2017.
(8) An effective "Facts First" ad by CNN: Showing an apple, the narrator indicates that some would like you to believe this is a banana through screaming "banana" over and over again or putting "BANANA" in all-caps. But this is an apple.
(9) Final thought for the day: Republican candidates realize that they are in a lose-lose situation. Get too close to Trump and you are doomed, given his overall approval rating of around 35%. Keep your distance, and you are doomed, particularly in primaries, given his approval rating of a tad over 80% among Republicans.

2017/11/08 (Wednesday): Here are Seven items of potential interest.
Pele's famous bicycle kick at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, 1965 Alfred Hitchcock seeking inspiration in the river Thames, 1960s Albert Einsteins Princeton office exactly as he left it upon his death on April 18th, 1955 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Pele's famous bicycle kick at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, 1965. [Center] Alfred Hitchcock seeking inspiration in the river Thames, 1960s. [Right] Albert Einstein's Princeton office exactly as he left it upon his death on April 18th, 1955.
(2) When it comes to sexual harassment, scientists and technologists are no different from others: "As with just about any area of human endeavor where men hold the lion's share of power, the world of science and technology is plagued by sexual harassment. Women in STEM fields have long known this, of course. But just as in Hollywood, where the predatory behavior of producer Harvey Weinstein was long whispered about but never discussed openly, the phenomenon of professors and researchers hitting on undergrads, grad students, postdocs and colleagues has mostly been hushed up—not only by victims fearing retaliation but also by institutions determined to keep their good name untarnished and their superstars happy."
(3) Quote of the day: "[Build] your cars in the United States instead of shipping them over." ~ Trump in Japan, apparently unaware that for years, Japan has built more cars in the US than the Big Three US auto makers.
(4) Tweet of the day: "I hope Donald doesn't use his 280 characters to subject us to twice as many daily lies, rants and spelling errors." ~ George Takei
(5) Ten brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- "I never knew we had so many countries." ~ Trump in Japan, on world leaders calling him after the election
- "I'm sure I could have built it for a lot less." ~ Trump, on the $11B expansion of US's base in South Korea
- Corruption probe in Saudi Arabia leads to arrests of several members of the Royal Family.
- Why is the Saudi coup "bold reform," whereas such mass arrests in any other country is condemned?
- Speaking from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon's PM Hariri resigned, citing assassination threats and blaming Iran.
- Khamenei rearing to start a war: Missile attack on Saudi Arabia by Yemen's Houthis masterminded by Iran.
- Putin praised by another dictator, Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei, during trilateral talks in Tehran, with Azerbaijan.
- Harvey Weinstein hired spies to dig dirt on his sexual-harassment accusers and to intimidate them.
- The Borowitz Report (humor): Trump accomplishing little in final year as President, poll indicates.
- Some of the Americans just elected may cause nightmares for misogynists and White Supremacists.
(6) Today's noon mini-concert: UCSB Middle East Ensemble (about 1/3 of the members) performed at UCSB's Music Bowl. The one-hour program included an early-20th-century Armenian Song, a Greek dance tune, which was quite popular in Iran way back when, a Lebanese song, in the original form and the Persian version, and an Arabic dance tune, with its slow portion, featurng Scott Marcus, the Ensemble's Director, on the ney, recorded separately.
(7) Walking along the UCSB campus bluffs, on my way to a meeting this afternoon: On gorgeous days like this, looking on the natural beauty of the campus and its surroundings, I ask myself how I got so lucky to end up here 29 years ago. The Santa Barbara Channel Islands and a lone paddle-boarder are seen in two of the photos each. Later in the afternoon, I recorded this 360-degree view of the south end of the UCSB campus, featuring a student crew team practicing on the Lagoon.

2017/11/07 (Tuesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Top of the Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1937 Fixing the antenna atop the Empire State Building, 1950 Man waling on a tightrope between the tops of NYC's Twin Towers (1) History in pictures: [Left] Top of the Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1937. [Center] Fixing the antenna atop the Empire State Building, 1950. [Right] Man waling on a tightrope between the tops of NYC's Twin Towers.
(2) The sad story of an immigrant family: A child prodigy of Greek origins, who learned to write at 2 and began taking college courses at 7, is stifled in developing her enormous potential by poverty, bullying, misogyny, and the sick obsession of a man in his late seventies. This powerful and expertly-written true story about the gifted Promethea (nee Jasmine) is quite long, but well worth reading. [Partial translation in Persian]
(3) Quote of the day: "Tonight, as my colleagues go to sleep, they need to think about whether the political support of the gun industry is worth the blood that flows endlessly onto the floors of American churches, elementary schools, movie theaters, and city streets. They need to ask themselves whether they can claim to respect human life while choosing fealty to weapons-makers over support for measures favored by the vast majority of their constituents. My heart aches for Sutherland Springs. Just like it still does for Las Vegas. And Orlando. And Charleston. And Aurora. And Blacksburg. And Newtown. Just like it does every night for Chicago. And Bridgeport. And Baltimore. Now is the time for Congress to overcome its cowardice and do something." ~ US Senator Chris Murphy, Connecticut
(4) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Election day 2017: Governorship and congressional races may indicate how the midterrn elections might go.
- All the President's men: "The Shady Bunch" (song of the week)
- ISIS leaders defend the Second Amendment and oppose gun control; they need fewer terrorists this way!
- Photo of the day: The Moon and the volcano. [Photo]
- Reposting from four years ago: Old saying: Think before you speak. New saying: Google before you post.
- Experts believe that a newly unveiled charcoal drawing is an early draft of da Vinci's "Mona Lisa."
(5) The Borowitz Report: "White House claims Flynn's job was to make coffee when Papadopoulos was busy. ... [Sarah Huckabee] Sanders said that, in the weeks to come, the White House is likely to release the names of additional campaign staffers whose roles were limited to the preparation of coffee beverages, and that such names might include Jared Kushner and Donald Trump, Jr."
(6) Gendered expectations hold women7back: Writing under the title "I'm Your Mentor, Not Your Mother" in Science, Larisa R. G. DeSantis complains about the expectations that female academic mentors be motherly.

2017/11/06 (Monday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Mouth-watering snacks & exotic fruits, offered by street vendors in Iran (1) Mouth-watering snacks & exotic fruits, offered by street vendors in Iran: [Top, left to right] Fresh almonds; Green plums; Fresh walnuts; Boiled fava beans; Loquat ("Azguil"); White mulberries ("toot") [Bottom] Fresh pistachios; Mayhow ("Zalzalak"); Broiled corn; Baked beets; Sour cherries; dogwood fruit ("Zoghal-akhteh")
(2) Political debate in Iran: Sadegh Zibakalam argues passionately against having a cleric as Supreme Leader, who isn't accountable to anyone. Only Zibakalam's side of the debate is compiled in this video (in Persian), but it is hard to imagine any reasonable defense of an absolute dictator, who does not even abide by the country's constitution that he helped enact.
Zibakalam's arguments in this and other settings are solid and very logically constructed. I like his positions, but there is a nagging doubt in the back of my mind about why people with much milder criticisms of the Islamic regime are sentenced to long prison terms, while he is free and allowed to speak in public forums.
(3) Sexual harassment in Iran (#MeToo): Employment ads for secretarial work openly and unabashedly specify that they seek young single women only. Privately, they also add "pretty" to the list of qualifications.
(4) Eight brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- First 3 "witches" netted in Robert Mueller's "witch hunt": Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos.
- Netflix cancels the hit series "House of Cards" and fires its star Kevin Spacey over sexual misconduct.
- Trump repeats the tired line that the Texas mass murder was a mental health problem, not a gun problem!
- "Thoughts and prayers" are useless, even if you are someone who actually thinks and prays! [Image]
- Massive leak reveals new ties between Trump administration officials and Russian entities.
- Cartoon of the day: The NRA flag flying high, while the US flag is at half mast. [Image]
- Sharing to raise awareness of the Toranj app, which may help Iranian women facing domestic abuse.
- Today's views of UCSB Lagoon, under the clouds and with a seasonably cool breeze. And a panorama.
(5) I wonder whether Trump still believes in something he has stated on at least 13 different occasions: "Anyone being investigated by the FBI is not qualified to be the president of the United States."
(6) An interview with the editor of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: Dr. Bandy X. Lee, who began a movement, later joined by thousands of psychologists, maintains that her duty to warn the public in the face of imminent danger takes precedence over the ethics of refraining from discussing the mental conditions of someone not directly examined.
(7) Decades of progress in race relations going down the drain: Appalling racism on display at a Wisconsin football game by "fine people" (Trump's words), one dressed as Obama with a noose around his neck, being pulled by another dressed as Trump. Equally telling is the fact that the duo were not ejected from the game.
(8) Don't send prayers to the Texas mass-shooting victims (which left at least 27 dead): They had plenty of prayers, as they were shot in a church. Send them financial help and ideas about gun-control legislation.

Cover image for Mary Roach's 'Packing for Mars' 2017/11/05 (Sunday): Book review: Roach, Mary, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, unabridged audiobook on 9 CDs, read by Sandra Burr, Brilliance Audio, 2010.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The back-of-the-CD-box blurb aptly summarizes the main points of Roach's book. It reads in part: "Space is a world devoid of things we need to live and thrive: air, gravity, hot showers, fresh produce, privacy, beer. Space exploration is in some ways an exploration of what it means to be human. How much can a person give up? How much weirdness can they take? What happens to you when you can't walk for a year? have sex? smell flowers? What happens if you vomit in your helmet during a space walk? Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout at 17,000 miles per hour?"
NASA tries to answer these questions for would-be astronauts, before they ever set foot in space. Some fail quickly and miserably, others can tolerate much discomfort, motivated by the allure of being one of the few human beings to travel in space. Under the very difficult conditions of sensory deprivation, isolation, lack of privacy, claustrophobic living quarters, and the like, it is quite easy for human beings to snap. For example, Russian male astraonauts have been reported as becoming sexually aggressive towards female co-workers, reflecting their culture's attitude towards women, which they could not suppress under extreme pressure. Japanese astronauts seem to be ideal candidates, in view of their culture's expectation of self-scarifice and respect for authority.
Roach describes many experimental set-ups used to train and acclimate astronauts for their eventual space missions and the cut-throat competition between many candidates for the few actual space-flight spots available. True to form, she also divulges a lot of interesting details about the challenges of life in space and interesting tidbits one would not know, if one were just looking at NASA's space programs from the outside. Here are a few examples.
a. Motion sickness isn't really a sickness but a natural condition. Even fish experience it, as confirmed by a group of fish, tank-raised and later transported by boat, emptying their stomachs into their tank. It may be the unfortunate result of an evolutionary accident that placed the control centers for motion-sensing and stomach cleansing next to each other, leading to the possibility of cross-talk between them.
b. Beached whales often die from gravity before lack of water gets them, because their skeletal structures are incapable of supporting their weight, absent the help they get from buoyancy. In many situations, gravity can be the real enemy. Gravity can also be a great help. The difficulty of having sex in zero- or low-gravity environment has been studied and confirmed by placing seals in a pool and observing them struggle to mate.
c. Opening to a space shuttle toilet is 4 inches across, compared with 18 inches in ordinary toilets. Alignment is challenging in the absence of sensory feedback from the seat in zero gravity. So, astronauts must be potty-trained. The relationship between diet and the stool type and consistency is rigorously studied, as it affects the frequency and ease of doing #2 in space. Pre-launch diet is particularly important, in view of 8 hours or more of waiting on the launch pad, with no possibility to going to the toilet.
d. For long-distance space missions, such as going to Mars, mice are the most efficient source of protein to take along, in terms of the amount of nutrition they provide per unit weight. Eating soiled clothing, that must be discarded due to the impossibility of washing them, has also been explored. Research on digestable and nutritional clothing material holds much promise for solving the problem of the enormous payload needed for travel to Mars.
The four examples above are just a few of the interesting ones. To learn more about these examples and/or to pursue many other examples of the enormous challenges of space travel, Roach's book is your best bet.

2017/11/04 (Saturday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Lady Liberty, as seen from the torch, now closed to visitors Future NYC, as imagined in the early 1900s Navajo young man, photographed by Carl E. Moon, 1906 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Lady Liberty, as seen from the torch, now closed to visitors. [Center] Future NYC, as imagined in the early 1900s. [Right] Navajo young man, photographed by Carl E. Moon, 1906.
(2) The GOP tax plan is smoke and mirrors: Not all middle-class families will see a tax cut, particularly those who live in states with expensive housing and/or high local tax rates. Even those who will see a modest immediate cut, will end up paying more, when the 5-year temporary cuts expire. Corporate tax reduction from 35% to 20% and repeal of estate tax are permanent though. Current deductions on mortgage and student-loan interests will be taken away. So, this is a tax cut plan for corporations and the super-rich, financed with increased deficit spending and sugar-coated with temporary cuts for a subset of other taxpayers. Some refer to the plan as the "Trojan-Horse tax cut." [Based on a panel discussion on the PBS program "Washington Week"]
(3) Sharing a comment I made on a friend's Facebook post of a passionate attack on the GOP tax plan by Elizabeth Warren: Warren's ideas are great, but unfortunately, given the current political climate, they are somewhat toxic when described by the right as socialistic. This label turns off all of Trump's base, plus a sufficient number of Clinton supporters to make her doomed in a general election. I think Warren (68), Sanders (76), and Pelosi (77) should move to the sidelines and support some young, energetic, middle-of-the-road Democrat in 2020.
(4) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Purported "Mossad agent" sentenced to death without a trial in Iran.
- Government crackdown on Iranian journalists continues: Reformist journalists receive jail sentences.
- Iran bans BBC Persian Service, harasses its journalists, and freezes their families' assets.
- AG Jeff Sessions continues to be belittled and pressured by Trump to do things he deems inappropriate.
- [Message to US Congress] Make America Great Again: Impeach Trump!
- [Signs held by protesters in Hawaii to greet Trump] "Welcome to Kenya" | "I'm Not Orange, Impeach"
Cover image of the audiobook 'Earth' by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (5) Book review: Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Earth: A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Jon Stewart et al., Hachette Audio, 2010. [My 4-star review on GoodReads]
The expansion of scope from Stewart's earlier book, America, to Earth in this book, may suggest that some future book of his will be titled Galaxy and then, perhaps, Universe! As expected, there is a great deal of smart writing in the book, but there's also filler material to expand the main ideas (barely) into a book-length presentation.
The book's premise is that humans, realizing that they will soon vanish from the face of Earth, start writing down some answers to questions that the eventual alien visitors might have about us and our habitat, when they arrive. The print version of the book apparently has many color photographs, graphs, and charts.
Much of the book follows the format of a dictionary or glossary, with typical entries being of the following kinds (example entries are abbreviated and paraphrased).
RELIGION: We are the only species that realizes life does not last forever. This leaves us two options. (a) Find comfort in life as a transitory and purposeless side show. (b) Find comfort in death as a doorway to a far richer and fulfilling state of being. We mostly went with (b), that is, God and religion. Religion tells us that we were created for a reason: To be grateful for being created and to kiss God's ass at every opportunity!
FASTER: Smaller's more demanding technology twin. You'd think we would be endlessly grateful for travel time from New York to San Francisco having been cut from 6 months to 6 hours in less than 100 years. Far from it, we tend to complain about every small delay or wait that we encounter. The only thing that exceeds the speed of technological progress is the speed with which we get irritated at its now relative slowness!
This is an enjoyable listen/read, not just for fans of Stewart's brand of humor, but for everyone else as well. It is a rare comic work that makes one think seriously about what we are doing to our environment and how close we are to the brink of extinction.

2017/11/03 (Friday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Interesting range of facial expressions in a sex-education class, 1929 A 5000-year-old toy chariot found in the ancient city of Sogmatar, southeastern Turkey (photograph by Halil Fidan) Soviet plane-spotters, circa 1917 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Interesting range of facial expressions in a sex-education class, 1929. [Center] A 5000-year-old toy chariot found in the ancient city of Sogmatar, southeastern Turkey (photograph by Halil Fidan). [Right] Soviet plane-spotters, circa 1917.
(2) Trump's shocking assertion in his latest Fox News interview: He is not worried that 5 of 6 undersecretary and 21 of 24 assistant-secretary positions in the State Department remain vacant, because his own opinion is the only thing that matters in making decisions.
(3) Twitter accounts connected with election meddling banned: The 2752 users include handles posing as local news titles, activist groups, and political commentators.
(4) Rich Americans giving up their citizenship to avoid taxes: In 2016, a total of 5411 US citizens renounced their citizenship, up 26 percent from 2015. A comparable increase is expected this year.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Trump's Twitter account shut down for 11 minutes by an employee, who went rogue on last day of work.
- Make sure to look at the full "Beaver Moon" tonight, around 10:23 PM Pacific time.
- The Supreme Court reportedly unexcited to be hearing an important gerrymandering case.
- John Kerry and top US generals, 573 e-mail addresses in all, were on Russia's cyber-hit-list.
- Bin Laden, the enemy of the decadent West, had several American films in his movie collection.
- Cartoon of the day (about iPhone X): "There is no home button. You just click your heels three times."
Cover image of 'The Andy Cohen Diaries' (6) Book review: Cohen, Andy, The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, Mcmillan Audio, 2014. [My 2-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The American author and radio and TV host/producer, best known for his Bravo series "Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen" and as the executive producer of "The Real Housewives" franchise, reads his diary entries, which document in great detail his activities and thoughts. The reader/listener gets bored quickly, as the account for each day sounds pretty much like the previous one: walk the dog, mingle with famous people, film show, work out, and make some comment about being fat.
As a TV producer, it's not surprising that Cohen comes in contact with a lot of people. He is careful about dishing dirt, so as not to compromise his ability to book people on his shows. Throughout, Cohen name-drops B-list to D-list celebrities, such as X's son/daughter, Y's publicist/agent, or Z's hair stylist. A-listers, such as Madonna and Lady Gaga, are also mentioned, but do not form central players in the narrative.
I was able to stomach only 3 of the 14 parts of this audiobook, before thinking that my daily walking time would be better spent on something else (such as the intelligent comedy of Earth: A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race, by the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, to which I turned my attention). Going in, I thought that a book by a gay Jewish author should be doubly funny. The book does have some haha funny passages, but you have to mine for a long time to find the gems.

2017/11/02 (Thursday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Martin Luther King with his son, removing a burnt cross from their front yard, 1960 Leo Tolstoy with his granddaughter Tatiana, Russia, ca. 1910 President John F. Kennedy having a tea party with his daughter Caroline (1) History in pictures: [Left] Martin Luther King with his son, removing a burnt cross from their front yard, 1960. [Center] Leo Tolstoy with his granddaughter Tatiana, Russia, ca. 1910. [Right] President John F. Kennedy having a tea party with his daughter Caroline.
(2) Russians working at a "troll farm" alternately pretended to be rednecks, blacks, and other classes of Americans on social media, and they watched "House of Cards" to familiarize themselves with US politics.
(3) Oldest solar eclipse ever recorded: By allowing us to determine when Ramesses The Great actually ruled Egypt, the recently uncovered record could change the chronology of the ancient world.
(4) A heartfelt essay in Persian, with the provocative title "Iran is the Africa of the Sexually Hungry": In this 2-year-old story, a married woman writes about sexual harassment on the streets of Tehran and other hazards of being a woman in Iran.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- US corporate taxes highest in the world? Here's what big corporations actually paid (average = 3.4%).
- Slow to react to the Las Vegas shooting, Trump wasted no time in blaming liberals for NYC's terror attack.
- The pattern continues: An utterly unqualified nominee for the post of USDA's top scientist.
- Is our number sense a neural capacity we are born with or is it a product of our culture? [Article]
- New York City memorial for bicyclists killed in truck terror attack of October 31, 2017.
- Full text of a very short story, entitled "The Oval Portrait," by Edgar Allan Poe.
(6) Responses to Donald Trump Jr.'s tweet about Halloween: DT Jr. likened socialism to taking half of his daughter's candy haul and giving it away to kids who stayed home. He heard back from many, including author J. K. Rowling.
(7) Robert Reich's talk at Campbell Hall this afternoon (which I did not attend): Entitled "How Did We Get into This Mess: Reclaiming Our Economy and Our Democracy," the talk was the inaugural event of the new Blum Center for Global Poverty Alleviation and Sustainable Development. Reich, Secretary of Labor under President Clinton and author of 15 books, including his latest, Saving Capitalism for the Many, Not the Few, has turned into a popular figure and sought-after speaker, given his searing social-media posts. I thought that getting to the venue 20 minutes before the 4:00 o'clock start time would be adequate, but upon getting there, I discovered that the large auditorium (capacity ~850) was already full and a line had formed of those still hoping to get in, as the ushers tried to compact the audience to unveil open spaces. At any rate, I was too far back in the line to get in. Here is Reich talking about his latest book at the Kansas City Public Library as a substitute for my would-be report. [Reich begins at the 8:00-minute mark of the video]

2017/11/01 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Sunset in the wild Moon over canyon Flower Paradise, Japan (1) Our beautiful nature: [Left] Sunset in the wild. [Center] Moon over canyon. [Right] Flower Paradise, Japan.
(2) Casualties of North Korea's nuclear tests: Some 200 people have died in a tunnel collapse caused by underground tests and scores of soldiers and their families are being treated for radiation exposure.
(3) NYC's truck-terrorist was a "friendly" Uber driver: No version of Trump's travel ban would have prevented the Uzbek's entry into the US.
(4) Getting out of prison vs. being freed from prison: Many reports on Iranian Baha'i leaders recently completing their prison terms refer to their "being freed from prison." I prefer to use "got out of prison." The former may be interpreted as some sort of pardon or shortened term, whereas these leaders actually served their full unjust prison terms. Unfortunately, we do not have a special term (in Persian or English) to refer to getting out of prison after serving a term, so we use "freed" ("azad shodan") to describe both a benevolent pardon event and completing one's prison term. [Persian version of this post]
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Volkswagen management knew about emissions cheating much earlier than previously admitted.
- Trump reportedly blames Kushner for the Mueller probe, because he urged the firing of Flynn and Comey.
- Houston beats LA 5-1 in game 7 to win the MLB championship. Well-deserved celebration, after Harvey!
- Marine Corps Vietnam War veterans recreate photo pose with surfboard after being apart for 50 years.
- Postmodern Jukebox's wonderful jazzy renditions of "Bad Romance" and "Careless Whisper."
- "Trump accuses Clinton of deliberately losing election so he could be impeached." ~ The Borowitz Report
(6) Saudi Arabia plans to build a $500 billion city of the future: Thirty-three times the size of New York City, Neom mega-city will be powered entirely by renewable energy. [Promotional video] [Web site]
(7) Former U. Iowa athlete arrested over high-tech cheating: He used spying software to gain professors' passwords and then entered their accounts to change grades numerous times, for himself and others.
(8) Today's noon concert at the UCSB Music Bowl: The UCSB Jazz Ensemble performed some wonderful tunes (New Orleans & other styles), including this tune, this fragment, and "Caravan" (with long improvisations).
(9) College soccer playoffs: By losing 0-1 at home to UC Riverside on an 87th-minute goal in a quarterfinals match, UCSB is eliminated from the Big West and NCAA tournaments. As they say, next year is another season!

2017/10/31 (Tuesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
German prisoners of war being paraded through the streets of Moscow Tiananmen Square protests, China, 1989 Merit Ptah, perhaps the first woman of science to be known by name, practiced medicine ~5000 years ago in Egypt (1) History in pictures: [Left] German prisoners of war being paraded through the streets of Moscow. [Center] Tiananmen Square protests, China, 1989. [Right] Merit Ptah, perhaps the first woman of science to be known by name, practiced medicine ~5000 years ago in Egypt.
(2) As we are distracted by Trump's tweets about the Russia investigation, kneeling, "Fake News," uranium deal, and by other "breaking news" of the day, members of his cabinet are quietly attacking civil rights provisions, environmental regulations, consumer protections, and many other anti-bigotry, anti-greed, and anti-exploitation laws/institutions. [Time magazine cover image]
(3) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Truck terror attack on NYC bike path kills 8: The Uzbek suspect, shot by the police, shouted "Allahu Akbar."
- Good news: Iranian Baha'i leader Fariba Kamalabadi is out of prison after serving a 10-year sentence.
- More good news: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says she isn't leaving the Supreme Court.
- First inter-stellar object from beyond our solar system has been observed in our neck of the celestial woods.
- The new $0.12 increase in CA gas tax will mean a larger increase in gas prices, if history is any indication.
- Proof that a missing hyphen can be just as dangerous as a missing Oxford comma. [Image]
(4) For ramen lovers: Are you the kind of person who slurps when eating noodles? No worries! For $130, you can buy one of the new noise-canceling forks being offered by the Japanese instant-ramen company Nisin.
(5) Donald Trump Jr. posts an ill-advised Halloween tweet, with a photo of his very young daughter dressed up as a police officer, and hears back about it.
@DonaldTrumpJr: "I'm going to take half of Chloe's candy tonight & give it to some kid who sat at home. It's never to (sic) early to teach her about socialism."
@jacobinmag: "Just wait until she finds out about capital income!"
@Bearpigman: "My man, 'socialism' was her getting that free candy in the first place. You taking half for reasons she can't understand is capitalism."
(6) My afternoon walk: Had a long, refreshing walk to the Camino Real Marketplace, returning via the bluffs at Coal Oil Point. The experience was enhanced by a message on a memorial bench and somewhat spoiled by the discourtesy of the area's horseback riders. [Photos]
(7) My Halloween 2017: Decoration and treats set-up. More photos, taken later in the evening.

2017/10/30 (Monday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Four future US presidents on their wedding days Comparing Oxford of 200 years ago (1810 painting) and today (2015 photograph) shows very little change Paul Newman at the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington (1) History in pictures: [Left] Four future US presidents on their wedding days. [Center] Comparing Oxford of 200 years ago (1810 painting) and today (2015 photograph) shows very little change! [Right] Paul Newman at the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington.
(2) Puerto Rico Governor cancels the contract awarded to the tiny Whitefish Energy company, with ties to the Trump administration, for repairing the island's power grid.
(3) [Here's an item to help you forget the grim political scene] Google criticized for placing cheese under the patty in its cheeseburger emoji: Cheese is almost always placed on top of the patty, because its stickiness helps hold other toppings in place!
(4) Fox guarding the hen house: Former dean of a for-profit college accused of fraudulent practices is now in charge of the fraud-handling unit of the Department of Education.
(5) Ten brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Rumors of imminent Mueller firing intensify amid indictments issued in the Russia collusion investigation.
- Thirteen different cancers can now be linked to sugar and carbs.
- Saudi Arabia lifts ban on women going to sports stadiums.
- The number of times Trump has offered the non-answer "we'll see" to different questions. [Chart]
- Cartoon of the day: The getaway cart. [Image] [From The New Yorker]
- Apple fires an engineer whose daughter posted a video of iPhone X before its release date.
- Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey apologizes for sexually assaulting a minor on movie set.
- Security info on Queen Elizabeth II and various UK officials found on USB stick discarded on London street.
- Preteen boy's suicide attempt by jumping off a freeway overpass kills 22-year-old woman.
- Postmodern Jukebox's wonderful jazzy rendition of "Call Me Maybe" and "Straight Up."
(6) Looking forward to attending "Montage 2017," UCSB Department of Music's talent showcase. Featuring classical, jazz, world, and contemporary music, the event will be held on Sunday November 12, 2017, 7:30 PM, at Trinity Episcopal Church, downtown Santa Barbara.
(7) I wouldn't have guessed it, but it's fairly easy to prove: You need on average e = 2.718... uniformly-distributed random numbers in [0, 1] for the sum to exceed 1 for the first time.

2017/10/29 (Sunday): Here are six items of potential interest.
West Palm Beach, Florida, 1910 The Rouchomovsky skeleton, circa 1890s Jacqueline and John F. Kennedy on an NYC street, 1960; photograph by Cornell Capa (1) History in pictures: [Left] West Palm Beach, Florida, 1910. [Center] The Rouchomovsky skeleton, 1890s. [Right] Jacqueline and John F. Kennedy on an NYC street, 1960; photograph by Cornell Capa.
(2) By a tie vote, broken by VP Pence, the US Senate threw out a key consumer-protection provision: "Yes" votes by all three "heroes" (Corker, Flake, McCain) enabled this gift to fraudulent or reckless financial firms, such as Wells Fargo and Equifax, which can now include forced arbitration clauses in their contracts to guard against lawsuits. Senators Lindsey Graham and John Neely Kennedy were the Republican "no" votes.
(3) Twitter suspends the account of former Trump aide Roger Stone: In a particularly vulgar tweetstorm, reported by numerous Twitter users, @RogerJStoneJr went after Don Lemon, Jake Tapper, Charles Blow, and other news-media figures. Conservatives are crying foul.
(4) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- As Mueller closes in, Trump goes back to Clinton e-mails, Comey, and other old subjects in a tweetstorm.
- Dodgers vs. Astros, Game 5: 4-4 after 4 innings; 7-7 after 5; 9-12 after 8; 12-12 after 10; 13-12 Houston!
- Jared Kushner traveled unannounced to Saudi Arabia "to continue discussion of Middle East peace."
- Fire in Santa Rosa's Fountaingrove region destroyed Hewlett-Packard's key historical archives.
- Fox News says that the real scandal is "Hillary Clinton's administration," a non-existent entity.
- Quote: "You know [things are] bad when W goes, 'Please dad, stop embarrassing the family!'" ~ Bill Maher
(5) Piano recital by Paul Berkowitz: This afternoon, I attended an enjoyable recital by UCSB Professor of Piano Paul Berkowitz, held at Music Academy of the West. Berkowitz, who has been described as being "in the royal class of Schubert interpreters," performed Schubert's last three piano sonatas to promote the release of his two new CDs, the final volumes 8 and 9 of his "Schubert Piano Works" series. Recording was prohibited, so here is the first piece in today's concert, "Sonata in C Minor, D958," from YouTube.
(6) Introduction to Neuroeconomics: How the Brain Makes Decisions (weeks 4-5): Having reported on the overall course structure and my experience in weeks 1-3 through my 10/24 post, I briefly describe the contents of the next two weeks here. There are 9 weeks in all, so I will likely offer two more posts.
Week 4: Neural representation of subjective values
a. Neural substrates of valuation (Value, utility, and brain; The nucleus accumbens, the core valuation region): Value is defined as the rate of firing of certain neurons. Animals work to stimulate the valuation neurons, even when no food reward is involved.
b. The nucleus accumbens codes anticipated gains (Expected value; Shopping, marketing, and learning): Traditional decision theory uses decision matrices as tools. Dopamine has developed into a prediction-error mechanism in the brain.
c. The orbitofrontal cortex derives a value signal (Decision values; The diffusion model & valuation process): Many lobotomies were performed (40,000 in the US alone) to disconnect the orbitofrontal cortex from the rest of the brain to deal with certain behavioral problems. Now we know that such an operation causes apathy and cognitive alternations. The amygdala is activated when assessing potential costs (negative effects) of a decision. The activity of the prefrontal cortex (decision-making region) has been observed to be proportional to the difference between the nucleus accumbens (benefits) and the amygdala (costs).
Week 5: Affective mechanisms of decision-making
a. Emotions I: Biological level of emotional stimuli processing (Innate reactions to emotional stimuli; Emotions as heuristics): Subliminal exposure to happy/neutral/angry faces affects decisions made subsequently. Exposure to photos of good-looking members of the opposite sex can modulate our discount parameter, intensifying our preference for immediate rewards. Sunshine is significantly correlated with daily stock returns. Emotions play a major role in decision-making. Certain emotions also act as releasers for our innate reactions, such as our built-in ability to recognize faces.
b. Emotions II: Neurobiology of emotions (Amygdala—an emotional computer; Emotions, consciousness, and optimal decisions): Humans have innate abilities to exhibit and recognize emotional expressions. Even blind children, who have never seen a facial expression, make the same faces to display happiness, disgust, etc. Our old brain consists of the reptilian brain, the paleomammalian brain (limbic system), and neomammalian brain. MacLean theory (no longer popular) suggests that the limbic system links our emotions to our social behavior, such as care for our children. Newer theories suggest that emotions are distributed throughout the brain. Emotions are states elicited by stimuli with subjective values (non-zero utility). Unemotional people have been shown to make poor decisions. However, in certain cases, emotions can inhibit optimal decisions.

2017/10/28 (Saturday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Downtown Las Vegas, 1912 Henry Behrens, the smallest man in the world, dances with his pet cat,1956 Illegal alcohol being poured out of storage building during Prohibition, Detroit, 1929 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Downtown Las Vegas, 1912. [Center] Henry Behrens, the smallest man in the world, dances with his pet cat,1956. [Right] Illegal alcohol being poured out of storage building during Prohibition, Detroit, 1929.
(2) Words and phrases used to describe the various parts of the Web we ordinary mortals do not see but that have a deep impact on our lives. [Source: IEEE Spectrum magazine, issue of October 2017]
Black Web | Dark side | Dark Web | Darknet | Deep Web | Hidden Web | Invisible Web
(3) Making big data a little smaller: The Johnson-Linderstrauss Lemma (JLL) states that for any finite collection of points in a high-dimensional space, one can find a collection of points in a lower dimension, while preserving all distances between the points. This allows us to reduce dimensionality before running algorithms to improve speed. It was recently demonstrated by Jelani Nelson (Harvard) and Kasper Green Larsen (Aarhus U.) that there exist 'hard' datasets for which dimensionality reduction beyond what is provided by JLL is impossible.
(4) On Alan M. Turing and the award that bears his name: Would Turing have won the prestigious award (often characterized as the Nobel Prize of Computing) named after him? This question sounds bizarre, but there is some substance to it. The history of the Turing Award and the question above are discussed by Moshe Vardi in his November 2017 column in Communications of the ACM. It is unclear that he would have, but Vardi concludes that he should have!
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- MLB Dodgers-Astros championship series is tied 2-2. Game 5 tomorrow at Houston. Games 6-7 in LA.
- Going backwards: Russia decriminalizes certain forms of domestic violence.
- Robots vs. Music: Robotic band plays/destroys various instruments. [Video]
- Cartoon of the day: "You knew what you signed up for!" [Image]
- Team Tyson/Nye wants to make America smart again! [T-shirt]
- Here are some of the images I found that illustrate the spread of fake news on Facebook.
(6) The singles scene: I keep being presented on Facebook with advertising posts from the site "Santa Barbara Singles." Among the insights doled out by the site is the fact that people in their 20s and 30s consider "dinner" to be the ideal first date, whereas those over 40 prefer "coffee." Good to know!

2017/10/27 (Friday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Cutting a sunbeam, 1886 (photo by Adam Diston) Soldiers and German townspeople react, as they are brought in to watch footage from concentration camps Female steel-workers during wartime, 1942 (soon to be a statue in Sheffield) (1) History in pictures: [Left] Cutting a sunbeam, 1886 (photo by Adam Diston). [Center] Soldiers and German townspeople react, as they are brought in to watch footage from concentration camps. [Right] Female steel-workers during wartime, 1942 (soon to be a statue in Sheffield).
(2) My upcoming bilingual lectures at UCLA: I will be giving a Persian lecture (Sunday, November 19, 2017, 4:00-6:00 PM, UCLA Dodd Hall, Room 121) and its English version (Monday, November 20, 2:00-4:00 PM, UCLA Humanities Building, Room 365), as part of UCLA's Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran. The talks are titled "Computers and Challenges of Writing in Persian" (with the alternate title: "Fifty Years of Poor Penmanship—How Computers Struggled to Learn the Persian Script").
(3) Joke of the day: A prisoner goes to the librarian at Tehran's Evin Prison and asks him if they have a particular book. "No," he responds, "but we have its author." [Persian version in image]
(4) Women who are conditioned to enable men who behave badly: A different perspective on the ongoing discussion about sexual predatory behavior and its victims. "Culturally, we are taught as women that our main power is our looks and sexuality."
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Insightful interview with a female Jewish reporter who traveled to Iran twice and fell in love with its people.
- Trump considers funding his infrastructure plan by raising federal gas taxes, a regressive form of taxation.
- Former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka raises the refrain "Lock Her Up" against Clinton to "Electrocute Her."
- Uber drivers caught charging riders bogus cleaning fees, at times exceeding $100.
- Modern Persian music: Eendo performs "Naghsh-e To" ("Your Image") and "Sahm-e Man" ("My Share").
- Surfer builds a board out of 10,000 cigarette butts he collected from the sand and beach parking lots.
(6) The failing peer-review system: No, this isn't a Trump tweet; it's really happening. Too many research papers are being published, too little time is being spent on their evaluation, and journal publishers' profit motive is too strong for bad science to be properly filtered out. "Any paper, however bad, can now get published in a journal that claims to be peer-reviewed."
(7) "In-memory" computing can lead to 200x performance improvement: IBM researchers have developed a "computational memory" architecture, which would enable ultra-dense, low-power, massively parallel computer systems. The idea is to use one device, such as phase-change memory, to both store and process data, thus removing the von Neumann bottleneck (limited bandwidth in transferring data between memory and processor) in conventional architectures.
(8) Russia is building naval bases on island chain under longstanding dispute with Japan: Let's see if our President eventually complains about this aggressive move. For now, he is occupied with the Seth Rich murder conspiracy theory and the JFK assassination files!

2017/10/26 (Thursday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Complete map of American rivers and tributaries (1) US rivers and tributaries: Every single one of them! The largest network of rivers, shown in pink, includes basins for the Mississippi, Missouri, and Arkansas rivers.
(2) Quote of the day: "When a leader correctly identifies real hurt and insecurity in our country and instead of addressing it goes looking for somebody to blame, there is perhaps nothing more devastating to a pluralistic society. Leadership knows that most often a good place to start in assigning blame is to first look somewhat closer to home. Leadership knows where the buck stops. Humility helps. Character counts. Leadership does not knowingly encourage or feed ugly and debased appetites in us." ~ Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona
(3) Everyone in Iran seems to be happy about Trump's recent speech on the "5 + 1" nuclear deal:
- Hardliners gleefully point out that they knew the US cannot be trusted (and lno "terrorsit" label for IRGC)
- Reformers are jubilant that the nuclear agreement was given a 2-month life extension, with no sanctions
- Anti-regime factions are pleased that Trump did not rule out the military option and regime change
- All 3 groups, however, are united in their condemnation of Trump referring to the Persian Gulf as "Arabian"
(4) Yu Darvish, the half-Iranian half-Japanese Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher: The MLB championship series between LA Dodgers and Houston Astros is tied 1-1 going into the third game tomorrow. Darvish will start.
(5) One dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Trump's Department of Education rescinds 72 guidance documents outlining rights for disabled students.
- With fewer than 10,000 AI specialists worldwide, $500,000 salaries are quite common.
- Persian music by Eendo: "Waltz-e Chaman" ("Greenery Waltz"); "Hamin Lahzeh" ("This Very Moment").
- Cartoon of the day: Monument to incompetence. [By John Atkinson] [Image]
- Boo! Americans spent $3.13B on Halloween in 2016, $420M of it on costumes for pets.
- PhotoShopped images of the Founding Fathers reacting to Trump go viral.
- Afghan girls try mountain-climbing despite numerous obstables and it gives them a chance to breathe free.
- Posing as an accountant, female Russian spy tried to gain access to Hillary Clinton's inner circle.
- First "unmanned" Southwest STL-SFO flight, with all-female flight crew: Pilot, co-pilot, and 4 attendants.
- Self-driving lidar-equipped wheelchairs debut in hospitals and airports.
- Magnitude-4.3 quake strikes near Lompoc, ~50 miles north of Sanata Barbara, CA, at 12:38 PM today.
- Babcock ranch in Florida aspires to be the most sustainable town in America.
(6) A different kind of arms race: In the face of threats from hatemongers, gays and other threatened groups are buying arms and taking shooting lessons in record numbers. Will we need a national disarmament treaty to defuse the danger of armed conflicts on our streets?
(7) The Final Transition Project: As if receiving funeral and cremation flyers in the mail wasn't bad enough, I now see Facebook ads for The Final Transition Project, described on its FB page as being "about science, death, and consciousness, from experts in joyful living, emotional health during dying, nursing, and palliative care."

2017/10/25 (Wednesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Abraham Lincoln, before he grew his trademark beard Alfred Hitchcock, 1920 Music to be murdered by, 1958 album (1) History in pictures: [Left] Abraham Lincoln, before he grew his trademark beard. [Center] Alfred Hitchcock, 1920. [Right] Music to be murdered by, 1958 album.
(2) US-Iran interactions are not limited to political bickering: There is also much scientific collaboration and data sharing. The unraveling of the nuclear deal might put much of these programs at risk.
(3) Iraqi Kurds are being attacked once again: With Iraqis' common top enemy, ISIS, on the run, the Iraqi government seems to be ditching the truce with Iraqi Kurds, beginning attacks on them, a la Saddam Hussein.
(4) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- US cities are competing for the privilege of hosting Amazon's new headquarters.
- Japan's Kobe Steel chief apologized for falsifying quality data, including parts used for high-speed trains.
- Trump recalls retired pilots to put nuclear bombers on 24-hour alert.
- Super Bowl LII halftime show will be headlined by Justin Timberlake (w/o Janet Jackson).
- Apt Halloween decoration in hurricane-damaged US areas. [Photo]
- Trump's efforts to close the door on Obamacare have been largely unsuccessful. [Image]
(5) Today's noon concert at UCSB's Music Bowl: Vientos del Sur (Winds of the South) played as part of the World Music Series concerts. ["El Condor Pasa"] [A wonderful love song] [Short percussion sample]
(6) College soccer: Tonight, UCSB played its last home game of the regular season against Sacramento State. The game ended 0-0 after two golden-goal overtime periods. UCSB should make it to the Big West playoffs, as it will tie for first place (if UC Davis loses to Cal Poly tonight) or will be the second-place team. The UCSB Dance Team performed at halftime. As I walked home around 9:30 PM, my weather app showed 94 degrees as the temperature, which was 20-25 degrees off. Perhaps the app overheated over the past three very hot days!
(7) Fascinating talk by Google's Director of Research: Peter Norvig spoke at UCSB's Campbell Hall this afternoon under the title "Creating Software with Machine Learning: Challenges and Promises," as the inaugural talk in the Data Science Distinguished Lecture Series. [Selected slides]
Software creation is moving from being a mathematical science (logical, certain) to an empirical science (probabilistic, uncertain). The process is changing from micromanaging the computer (telling it how to do things) to teaching it about what we want to accomplish and letting it discover how to meet our needs. This change is motivated by our desire to develop software faster (in days, not months or years), produce magical results (unexpected deductions or insights that sometimes emerge from the analysis of massive data sets), and update the software in real time, as we learn more about the application domain.
Deep learning, which Norvig characterized as a cushy marketing term for what a scientist might call "hierarchical basis-function regression," is the key tool in ML-based software creation. A good example is Google's AlphaGo-Zero, the latest Go-playing program that self-trained, after being given the Go rules, by playing against itself (it wasn't fed with any human-played games). The program managed to rise to the level of a human player in 3 days and to world's top player in 40 days.
Unlike the game of Go, many applications do not have clear-cut rules, so they present greater challenges. Norvig provided several examples from the domain of image labeling, where two pizzas sitting on a stove-top were correctly identified (though awkwardly described) by the program, but a horse in pajamas and Elvis dancing were mislabeled.
Translation between languages is another example, where much improvement is needed, but the problem of developing 9900 different translators for 100 languages would be infeasible without using ML.
One of the challenges of ML-based software creation is debugging. In the case of image labeling, one can always achieve better performance by feeding the program with more pre-labeled images, but it would be nice to be able to go under the hood, so to speak, to see why a program decided in a certain way and which features of the image, or which pixels, figured prominently in that decision.
One final topic covered in the talk was the use of ML in an environment with adversaries. It is one thing to be able to recognize naturally-created images and quite another thing to deal with images modified by an adversary to throw the system off. As an example, Norvig showed the photo of a panda that, when augmented with less than 0.1% pixels of noise by an adversary, would be labeled by the program as a gibbon, whereas the picture still looked very much like a panda to a human viewer.

2017/10/24 (Tuesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
JFK bought 1200 Cuban cigars just hours before signing the embargo against Cuba Public humiliation of class enemies during the Cultural Revolution, China, 1966 London's first black police officer, PC Norwell Roberts, on point duty near Charing Cross Station, 1968 (1) History in pictures: [Left] JFK bought 1200 Cuban cigars just hours before signing the embargo against Cuba. [Center] Public humiliation of class enemies during the Cultural Revolution, China, 1966. [Right] London's first black police officer, PC Norwell Roberts, on point duty near Charing Cross Station, 1968.
(2) Blockchains everywhere: Looks like every science/tech periodical I read these days has a feature story on blockchains. This photo shows the 2-page spread at the beginning of 38 pages of coverage in the October 2017 issue of IEEE Spectrum magazine. The same issue also contains an interesting article about how China is mining for Bitcoins in Ordos, a city in Inner Mongolia, with many coal-fired power plants and a booming economy. Fully half of the $8M daily Bitcoin mining rewards go to miners in China.
(3) Rope memory: Built for the first time in this 1963 prototype for NASA's Apollo missions, rope memory stores the 0s and 1s of a program as wires going or not going through tiny magnetic cores. Workers carefully embedded each bit of information by hand into this robust and non-volatile memory. Note that this read-only storage scheme is different from the read-write magnetic core memory, in which a core's direction of magnetization signals 0 or 1. [Image credit: IEEE Spectrum magazine, October 2017]
(4) Eight brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- From UCSB Library's wall exhibit "Art of Science 2017."
- A woman's experience in being cat-called, to put it mildly, and in reporting the incident.
- Imagining the future is a form of memory: Amnesia patients also lose the ability to predict the future.
- The latest Halloween costume for dreamers: Scared of being deported by Trump!
- Great idea: Crosswalk painted in 3D to make it more visible to drivers (photo shows a town in Iceland).
- A world wonder: These hex-shaped columns formed naturally by cooling lava 60M years ago.
- Facing 100+ temps and severe fire dangers, warnings are already out about flood risks come winter!
- Break the Chains: A cheerful tune with an empowering message for women everywhere. (Persian subtitles)
(5) The golfing Trump family: From Donald, who repeatedly declared during his campaign that as President, he would have no time for vacations or golfing, to Ivanka, who is shown golfing in a dress and high heels. Here is a compilation video about Trump dissing Obama many times for playing golf.
(6) "Introduction to Neuroeconomics: How the Brain Makes Decisions": This on-line Coursera offering introduces one to a new field of research that is less than two decades old. I covered 3 of the 9 weeks worth of lectures over last night and today. This write-up of my experiences is intended to give the reader a feel for the course, to see if s/he wants to pursue it.
The instructor, Vasily Klucharev (Moscow Higher School of Economics; neurophysiology PhD from St. Petersburg State Univ.), is a tad difficult to understand, but the slides and reference material make up for this shortcoming.
Here are some of the references:
- Chapters from Handbook of Neuroeconomics: Decision Making and the Brain, by Paul Glimcher et al., 2014.
- Those with no neuroscience background can use "Foundations of Neuroeconomic Analysis" P. W. Glimcher.
- Handbook of Cognitive Neuroscience: The Biology of the Mind, M. Gazzaniga et al., 2013, ch. 1-3, 12-14.
- Journal articles in neuroeconomics, selected for their clarity and accessibility [Visit the course plan]
Here is a list of the 9 weekly "lectures," each of which consists of a number of short videos and ends with a multiple-choice quiz:
Lecture 1: Introduction
Lecture 2: Brain and anatomy functions
Lecture 3: Introducing brain models of decision making and choice
Lecture 4: Neural representation of the subjective value, basal ganglia and choice value
Lecture 5: Affective mechanisms of decision-making
Lecture 6: Dual process theory of decision-making
Lecture 7: Decision-making under risk
Lecture 8: The social brain
Lecture 9: Taking an evolutionary perspective: the 'economic animal'
Here are some bits and pieces of info I gleaned from the first three lectures:
"A person's mental activities are entirely due to the behavior of nerve cells, glial cells, and the atoms, ions, and molecules that make them up and influence them." ~ Francis Crick [1916-2004]
Neuroeconomics = Neuroscience of decision-making; it is a branch of neuroscience, not economics
Brain signals can predict a decision seconds before one becomes aware of the decision (free will is an illusion)
Reference: Glimcher, Paul W. and Ernst Fehr, "Introduction: A Brief History of Neuroeconomincs," in Neuroeconomics: Decision Making and the Brain, 2nd ed., Academic Press, 2014. [On-line]
Two events gave birth to neuroeconomics: The neoclassical economics revolution of the 1930s and the emergence of cognitive neuroscience during the 1990s.
Neoclassical economics derives hidden preferences from observed choices, using mathematical models and divorcing the process from psychology and basing it on simple axioms. Demonstration of examples where some of these axioms didn't hold (paradoxes) led to the birth of behavioral economics, experimental economics, and, eventually, neuroeconomics. Although roots of the ideas go a few years further back, neuroeconomics was born at a small 2003 invitation-only gathering.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is a key tool for neuroeconomics studies.
Huettel, Scott A., Allen W. Song, and Gregory McCarthy, Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, 2014.
Diffusion model, comprised of collecting evidence, integrating inputs over time, and comparing the cumulative evidence to a threshold, is a main decision-making scheme in the human brain, which can also help explain collective decisions (such as those of honey bees).

2017/10/23 (Monday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in 1971 Rita Hayworth, 1948 Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean in 1955 (1) History in pictures (movie stars edition): [Left] Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in 1971. [Center] Rita Hayworth, 1948. [Right] Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean in 1955.
(2) On feelings about movies produced by Harvey Weinstein: "In the days after the Weinstein story broke, I noticed a number of young women on social media fretting that movies they had loved growing up ... now seemed tainted. Could they ever bear to enjoy them again? But to reject the movies themselves amounts to punishing the victim. It undercuts the fine work that so many women—and decent men—have put into Weinstein-produced movies over the years. The ugly reality that some of those women were working under duress makes their contribution, and their fortitude, even more admirable." ~ Stephanie Zacharek, writing as part of Time magazine's cover feature on Harvey Weinstein's sexual misconduct, issue of October 23, 2017
(3) Quote of the day: "[M]any women can't risk the financial consequences of standing up to power and subjecting themselves to retaliation, character assassination, demotion, termination and blacklisting." ~ Gretchen Carlson, writing as part of Time magazine's cover feature on Harvey Weinstein's sexual misconduct, issue of October 23, 2017
(4) Eight brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- EPA has canceled appearances of three of its scientists slated to speak at a climate change conference.
- Draft dodger, comparing his risky sexual behavior to dangers of war, thinks that a POW isn't a war hero!
- Homes can and should be made a lot harder to burn: Some existing homes are like a pile of wood.
- Hot, hot, hot: Expecting 100-degree temps over the next couple of days in Santa Barbara and Ventura.
- The chilling story of a Muslim-American who infiltrated Al Qaeda as an FBI undercover agent.
- Meet some of the Kurdish female fighters who helped defeat ISIS in Raqqa.
- Fake Navy-Seal/Vietnam-vet, with two fake Purple Heart medals, praises Trump on Fox News.
- Interesting 10/27 talk on the Iranian-American Contributions Project, for those in the Los Angeles area.
Photo of Richard Feineman (5) Thoughts on Physicist Richard Feynman: A discussion on a Facebook friend's post about Nobel Laureate and explainer-in-chief Richard Feynman led me to a search on Facebook to find and repost a book review I wrote a few years ago. Facebook doesn't make it easy to find your old posts. Fortunately, I keep copies of my Facebook posts in a diary and also make parallel posts of most items on this page.
First, let me share with you this Feynman quote that I found during my search: "When a scientist doesn't know the answer to a problem, he is ignorant. When he has a hunch as to what the result is, he is uncertain. And when he is pretty darn sure of what the result is going to be, he is still in some doubt. We have found it of paramount importance that in order to progress we must recognize our ignorance and leave room for doubt."
Now on to my review of Classic Feynman: All the Adventures of a Curious Character (W. W. Norton & Company, 2006), which contains all the material from the 1985 book, Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character), and its 1988 sequel, What Do You Care What Other People Think? Further Adventures of a Curious Character. The two books are not simply juxtaposed but their essays and chapters are merged to form a new arrangement of the material.
You can find the review of the book as a September 16, 2014 entry in the reverse-chronological PDF file which is accessible from near the top of my Blog & Books page. Here is a direct link to the PDF file. Also, I have just posted my review of the book on GoodReads to make it more widely accessible.
One of the remarkable things about Feyneman was his exemplary marriage to his first wife, Arline. His love letters to his terminally-ill wife, before and after her untimely death, are discussed in this post. Fearing that her illness might be contagious, they made love for the first time 2.5 years after they got married.
Feynman was the rare scientist who saw the big picture spanning not just the entire domain of science but life. An excellent example of Feyneman's curiosity and playfulness is on display in this 24-minute interview, where Feynman describes how he came to know of the tiny country Tannu Tuva (now part of Russia), and its capital Kyzyl, and how he and a friend went about exploring and learning about the country. Feynman passed away two weeks after this interview, a few days before an invitation from the Russian Academy of Sciences for a fully-paid visit to Tannu Tuva arrived.

2017/10/22 (Sunday): Here are six items of potential interest.
The Great Alaska earthquake of 1964, magnitude 9.2 William Harley and Arthur Davidson, 1914 A vending machine that sold already-lit cigarettes for a penny in 1931 England (1) History in pictures: [Left] Magnitude-9.2 Alaska earthquake of 1964. [Center] William Harley and Arthur Davidson, 1914. [Right] A vending machine that sold already-lit cigarettes for a penny in 1931 England.
(2) China is headed for dominance in the clean-energy market: Having made giant strides in solar and wind energy, China is now eyeing the energy storage market; lithium-ion batteries in particular. China already has 156,000 electric-vehicle charging stations and plans to increase the number to 4.8 million by 2020. It is projected that by 2020, China will produce 121 GWh of lithium-ion battery capacity annually. [Source: Time magazine, issue of October 16, 2017]
(3) A previously unreported sexual-harassment settlement: Worth $32 million, the newly unveiled case brings the total paid by Fox to victims of Bill O'Reilly to $45 billion. Fox paid O'Reilly $25 million as he was forced out earlier this year.
(4) A Facebook friend's heartfelt essay (in Persian) on having to flee her home in a rush, with empty hands, as the Santa Rosa fires, in northern California, were closing in: She recalls three previous flights, once in the aftermath of bombs falling on her hometown of Ahwaz during the Iran-Iraq war; a second time when she had to move from house to house, as Iraqi rockets targeted Tehran; and yet again when she fled her home country of Iran, taking with her a single suitcase.
(5) Half-dozen news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- US-backed militias have declared the total liberation of Raqqa, which was the de facto capital of ISIS.
- Former head of ACLU defends free-speech rights, even for Neo-Nazis.
- Wonderful cover of the classic love ballad "Dream On" by Postmodern Jukebox.
- Cartoon of the day: On increasing deficit spending to finance tax cuts for the super-rich. [Image]
- Five former US presidents participate in concert to benefit hurricane victims. [Photo]
- Efforts by China's Communist Party to woo the youth via glossy propaganda films produce box-office flops.
Cover image of David McCullough's 'The American Spirit' (6) Book review: McCullough, David, The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For, unabridged audiobook on 4 CDs, read by the author, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2017. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This slim book, a collection of speeches spanning three decades (including several commencement addresses), was one of the most enjoyable reads/listens of recent years for me. McCullough reminds us of things that made this country great, but which have been forgotten amidst conflicts and divisions.
Politicians used to be thinkers, orators, and strategists who cared and thought about long-term interests of our country (many of them, anyway), rather than petty paper-pushers and deal-makers who can see only as far as the next election, if that far. The halls of Congress have seen many great men (and very few women, unfortunately) who shaped our country, its passion for social justice, and its can-do attitude.
Great presidents and other politicians of our past did not have the Internet at their fingertips, and often did not enjoy access to a decent library or a large stash of books, as they wrote their speeches and other documents, such as the Declaration of Independence. Yet, they managed to say or write statements of lasting value. And this thoughtfulness extended to people in other walks of life, from industrialists to artists.
McCullough is often described as the elder statesman of American history. But this book isn't just about American history. It's also about life, about expectations, about events (historical or otherwise) not being inevitable but dependent on our actions, and it is full of words of wisdom from someone who deserves to be looked up to. Let me end my review with this gem of an observation from one of the book's speeches: "We should never look down on those of the past and say they should have known better. What do you think they will be saying about us in the future?"

2017/10/21 (Saturday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Abstract drawing of a distributed network for sharing of information (1) Silvio Micali's "Algorand: A Better Shared Ledger": On Friday, October 13, 2017, I made a brief post about the 2017 Turing Lecture right after listening to it streaming on-line. The sound quality was poor and the absence of slides, which did not advance due to a technical difficulty with the platform, combined with the speaker's enunciation/accent made it difficult to understand the technical concepts. I have pursued the matter on-line and have found a paper by Jing Chen and Silvio Micali, posted on May 26, 2017, on arXiv, that describes the concept of Algorand and its implementation in great detail.
Shared ledger is a chunk of shared data that is accessible freely, with everybody allowed to read from and write into it, but nobody allowed to change what is already written. Such a secure shared ledger has become quite important, given the spread of digital currencies. Even in the case of US dollar, which isn't a digital currency, it is estimated that 80% of the supply only exist as ledger entries. To post a new block to a secure distributed ledger, one must show proof of work. The amount of work needed is so extensive that, roughly speaking, only one block can be posted every few minutes, even if substantial computational power is applied to the problem. This is also very wasteful, because a great deal of energy is expended by computers that carry out the computations, to the extent that BitCoin-related computations can be viewed as significant contributors to global warming. Micali's work combines the original scheme of BitCoin with the notion of Byzantine agreement (in a fast and scalable implementation) to make block generation much more efficient, while keeping the security and trustworthiness unaffected. Asked about the term "Algorand," Micali described it as a mythical place for people to play and explore.
(2) Orionid Meteor Shower: Around this time each year, the Earth's orbit intersects with the path of Halley's Comet, whose debris (bits of dust, essentially) appear as shooting stars, as they streak through our sky. Good viewing times are just before dawn, both today (Saturday) and tomorrow (Sunday).
(3) Joke of the day: Question: What's the difference between Donald Trump and illegal immigrants?
Answer: Illegal immigrants pay taxes and some of them could pass a citizenship test.
(4) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Trump is anti-Obama in every possible way: Opinion piece, entitled "Trump, Chieftain of Spite," in NYT.
- Jacinda Ardern is New Zealand's youngest female PM in 150 years: They had a female leader 150 years ago?
- The fake "Blacktivist" Facebook page had 20% more likes than the real "Black Lives Matter" page. (CNN)
- Trump gave his administration a 10 on Hurricane Maria relief efforts. 10 out of what? 100?
- Iranian Baha'is face new wave of arrests, just before the 200th birthday of the faith's founder.
- Racist nursing textbook lists how blacks, Jews, Arabs/Muslims, ... might react to pain and treatment.
(5) Quick-and-easy guide to happiness: I am suspicious of a quick-and-easy guide to anything, but most of these 8 suggestions (from Time magazine, issue of October 2, 2017) resonated with me.
- Write a thank-you note: Reflecing on a friend's impact can brighten your day and his/hers.
- Snap a smartphone photo: It directs your attention, which may enhance your pleasure of the moment.
- Drop (almost) everything: Higher degrees of multi-taskeing has been found to increase anxiey levels.
- Get some sun: It may help regulate mood by boosting serotonin, a brain chemical linked to calmness.
- Jot down what you are grateful for: Doing so has been linked to greater feelings of happiness.
- Think about doing someone a favor: Research shows the thought to be enough for a lift, even before acting.
- Do a mini-meditation: A brief but consistent mindfulness habit can help us better react to stress.
- Buy tickets to events: Experiences give us more joy than things, and many memories sweeten with time.
(6) Former UCSB student headed to prison for 36 years: The sentence resulted from various crimes committed in 2014, including two counts of brutal rape as member of a group, whose other members remain at large. The case went cold and thus remained unsolved for 2 years, until DNA evidence led to an arrest in 2016.

2017/10/20 (Friday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Two daredevils playing tennis on a flying airplane at 1000m altitude, Los Angeles, 1925 Albert Einstein visiting the Grand Canyon in 1931 First UN assembly in New York City (1) History in pictures: [Left] Two daredevils playing tennis on a flying airplane at 1000m altitude, Los Angeles, 1925. [Center] Albert Einstein visiting the Grand Canyon in 1931. [Right] First UN assembly in New York City.
(2) Russia created fake black-activist group to stir racial tensions in the lead up to the 2016 US election and, according to several recent reports, is still active in this domain. If Trump truly did not collude with Russia, he should show outrage over a foreign power meddling in domestic US affairs with the goal of creating discord. Paying lip service to respecting the flag, without a willingness to defend the country against external forces of evil is extremely hypocritical!
(3) Sexist homework assignment: Asked to use synonyms with the 'ur' sound, a young girl provided a perfect answer to Question 1, "Hospital lady." Yet, the teacher couldn't let her correct answer ("Surgeon") go without adding the "expected" answer ("Nurse") in red!
(4) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- US soldiers killed in Niger, tasked with fighting IS, appear to have been poorly equipped and supported.
- Trump is torn between McConnell and Bannon, needing one to govern and the other to maintain his base.
- Quote of the day: "Bigotry and white supremacy are 'blasphemy' against the American creed." ~ G. W. Bush
- Time magazine cover of October 23, 2017, portrays Harvey Weinstein as "Producer, Predator, Pariah."
- Senator John McCain supports Democrats' bill seeking greater transparency in Facebook ads.
- MLB World Series will be played by LA Dodgers and the winner of NY Yankees vs. Houston Astros.
(5) Quote of the day: "This man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others. This has of course been a common practice of his, but to do it in this manner—and to lie about how previous presidents responded to the deaths of soldiers—is as low as it gets. We have a pathological liar in the White House: unfit intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically to hold this office and the whole world knows it, especially those around him every day. The people who work with this President should be ashamed because they know it better than anyone just how unfit he is, and yet they choose to do nothing about it. This is their shame most of all." ~ San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich
(6) Trump again calls the ongoing Russia investigation "a hoax," suggesting that the US sale of uranium to Russia is the "real Russia story": Hey, you are the US President with a vast Department of Justice, headed by your puppet, under your control. Why don't you suggest investigations by DoJ on all of Obama's and Hillary Clinton's supposed wrongdoings? Stop complaining, as if you are the underdog here!
[The increase in the number of tweets and statements about Russia in recent days is an indication that the probe is getting uncomfortably close to Trump and that he is feeling the heat, so to speak!]
(7) Energy Leadership Lecture 2017: Dr. Urs Holzle, Senior VP for Technical Infrastructure and Senior Fellow at Google, spoke under the title "Advances in Energy Efficiency through Cloud and ML" at UCSB's Corwin Pavilion today at 4:30 PM. As the title implies, Dr. Holzle discussed how moving computations to the cloud and application of machine learning can significantly lower energy consumption and replace dirty energy with clean, renewable energy. [Selected slides]
Energy implications of computing have become quite important. Servers use ~ 200 TWh of energy, which is comparable to energy use in all of Mexico. Google alone uses as much energy as the city of San Francisco. Given that Google has a lot of users, the per-user energy consumption, which is about 0.5 W on an on-going basis, is rather insignificant, when compared with the user's laptop or other computing equipment. Energy used in computing falls into three categories: Buildings housing computing equipment, be they server rooms in smaller organizations or giant data centers run by Google and the like; Servers themselves; User equipment and associated communications.
As for the energy used in data-center installations, it consisted until fairly recently of three nearly equal parts devoted to mechanical cooling, IT equipment, and everything else (lighting, UPS, etc.). So, the energy used for the actual computation was multiplied by a factor of 3.0, implying a 200% overhead. More efficient modern data centers reduced this factor to 1.8, for an overhead of 80%. Now, we can go as low as 10% overhead through a variety of energy saving schemes, including the application of machine learning to adjust a building's cooling strategy based on information about the applicable parameters.
Servers have undergone similar efficiency improvements. Earlier, some 50% of energy went to waste, even before power got to the actual circuits. By eliminating this waste, we are now at about 10% overhead relative to the actual energy used by the circuits. The circuit energy has been going down by 20% per year in recent years (post-Moore's-Law era). Factors leading to this reduction are smaller circuits, clock-gating (disabling the parts of the circuits not in use, so that they don't draw energy), frequency scaling (operating at lower speed when the workload is light), and specialization (tailoring the circuits to computations). In the latter domain, Google's hardware optimized for machine learning uses 0.2 MW of power, compared with 2.5 MW needed by a general-purpose supercomputer doing the same job.
As a whole, the IT industry uses about 2% of the world's energy, which is of the same order as the amount used by airlines. Because modern data centers are way more efficient than local server installations, moving to the cloud will reduce the energy consumption associated with computations by some 87%. Additional benefits of this migration are that it makes the use of renewable energy possible (in 2017, Google has achieved its 100% renewables goal) and requires less redundancy to ensure reliability (Gmail uses 1% redundancy, whereas a typical local e-mail server installation needs at least duplication to avoid service disruptions). This makes the user-side energy consumption even more important. Fortunately, with the move away from desktops and laptops to tablets and smartphones, user-side energy consumption is also going down.

2017/10/19 (Thursday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Inauguration of the statue of Jesus Christ in Rio de Janeiro, 1931 Riverfront street in Baghdad, Iraq, 1965 View from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, 1900 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Inauguration of the statue of Jesus Christ in Rio de Janeiro, 1931. [Center] Riverfront street in Baghdad, Iraq, 1965. [Right] View from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, 1900.
(2) New on-line scam: I received this notice of traffic fines, already paid from my account. I became suspicious, both because I have not driven in NYC lately and I rarely use this particular e-mail account. The scammer counts on you becoming sufficiently alarmed to click on one of the links in the message and thereby infect your computer with malware or go to a phishing Web site. The scam is more authentic-looking than most, but it has tell-tale signs of fraud, such as not including my name or the name/address of a contact. Be vigilant!
(3) Neuroscientists claim that the stereotype that women are kinder than men is true: University of Zurich reserchers have confirmed this claim via experiments. They report their results in a paper entitled "The Dopaminergic Reward System Underpins Gender Differences in Social Preferences" (Nature Human Behavior, October 2017). A natural question is whether this is merely due to social conditioning or reveals some biological and/or neurological differences.
(4) Ten brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Tillerson characterizes China as a predatory rule breaker, 3 weeks before Trump's scheduled visit there.
- Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei says on President Trump: He is "foul-mouthed" and "pretends to be an idiot."
- Like President Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz spreads falsehoods about US corporate taxes.
- Some DC park benches have been rendered unusable by the homeless, apparently without authorization.
- The four most populous American cities all have teams in MLB playoffs (Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs, Astros).
- Two decades of progress: CGI has come a long way from 1997. [Image]
- On the perils of getting old and technologies becoming obsolete: 3D-printed version of the "save" icon!
- Professor Touraj Daryaee's 3-minute review of the history of the Persian Gulf and the origins of its name.
- Bread-bowl Pizza: A simple and fun dish to bake; works better with a round loaf of bread. [Photos]
- Potato lasagna: Made like meat lasagna, except that potato slices are used in lieu of pasta. [Photos]
(5) Achievement of quantum supremacy may be only months away: Quantum supremacy means achieving computational capability that is beyond the limits set by conventional computing. This supremacy need not be achieved in a general-purpose environment; it suffices to demonstrate it for a single or a very limited number of applications. It is thought that, for certain apllications, a 50-qubit quantum computer would outperform the most powerful supercomputers now in existence. Researchers at UCSB and Google are aiming to create a system that can support about 50 qubits in superposition reliably. If this can be done, the thinking goes, the rest is straightforward. So far, they have shown that a 9-qubit system, capable of representing 512 numbers at once, operates reliably and without the accompanying exponential increase in errors. There is no guarantee that the scheme can be extended to 50 qubits, but the team of researchers believes the extension to be possible in a matter of months.
(6) "The buck stops here": This phrase was made famous by Harry Truman, who considered himself responsible for whatever went wrong in the US government. Former President Obama took responsibility, used the phrase "the buck stops with me" many times, accepted his mistakes, and pledged to learn from them. President Trump passes the buck and blames everything and everyone for his failures (Fake News, Congress, Repubicans, Democrats, NFL, Obama, Clinton, McCain, ...).
(7) Grand opening of UCSB's state-of-the-art Bioengineering Building: Chancellor Yang, campus academic deans, research center directors, and several local industry leaders were present at today's celebration and ribbon-cutting ceremony. An important point made during introductory speeches was that, unlike many other institutions where bioengineering stands for biomedical engineering (dealing with the design and production of medical devices), UCSB's vision is much broader and includes a wide array of concepts and techniques at the intersection of biology and engineering. Examples include drug delivery mechanisms, mimicking nature in engineering designs, and biologically-inspired materials.

2017/10/18 (Wednesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Photo intallation entitled 'Eyes of a Dreamer' (1) Eyes of a Dreamer: This photo installation across the US-Mexico border by French artist JR served as a massive table for an international picnic in September.
(2) The advent of gravitational-wave astronomy: In an exciting development, UCSB scientists, using data from a large network of observatories, were able to detect the collision of two neutron stars and use the info to pinpoint a small region of the sky to look for visual confirmation. The kilonova (1000 times brighter than a nova) observation would have been impossible without the hint about where to look.
(3) A Mars colony near Dubai: Mars Science City is a $140 million project funded by UAE which will be used to acclimate a team of astronauts to the harsh environment on Mars. The occupants will research food, water, and energy self-sufficiency. The colony is the first step in UAE's ambitious Mars 2117 project, which aims to establish a human colony on the red planet within a century.
(4) This Time magazine cover image, issue of October 16, 2017, reminds us that mass shootings fade from our memories, before they lead to preventive laws.
(5) Ten brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- The US took over possession of Alaska 150 years ago, today: Happy Alaska Day!
- French women start their own version of the #MeToo campaign: #BalanceTonPorc
- Mitch McConnell can't believe Donald Trump actually said that! [Interesting facial expression]
- Suspicious package led to bomb-threat investigation in Isla Vista, a student community adjacent to UCSB.
- In Trump's own words: Texas & Louisiana vs. Puerto Rico [Image; racist disaster aid].
- Feminism is alive and well in Iran: Protesting mandatory hijab by wearing white scarves on Wednesdays.
- Postmodern Jukebox has jazzed up many pop songs, but this one's really special: "All About That Bass"
- Young Paul McCartney visiting the late Iranian pop singer Viguen and enjoying aash-e reshteh. [Photos]
- German researchers resign from posts at Elsevier journals to protest resistance to an open-access policy.
- An example from "My Uncle Napoleon" as a metaphor for Iranians' sensitivity to the name "Persian Gulf"!
(6) US losses from anti-immigration policies are Mexico's gains: Some American companies are looking to expand their operations south of the border. Maybe they can afford to pay for the wall, after all!
(7) Bluegrass music at UCSB's Music Bowl: Santa-Barbara-based band "The Salt Martians" performed as part of the World Music Series (noon mini-concerts on Wednesdays). [Sample 1] [Sample 2] [Sample 3]

2017/10/17 (Tuesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
The Beatles crossing Abbey Road in 1969 Bob Dylan, with his harmonica cigarette-holder in 1964 Fleetwood Mac band in 1979 (1) History in pictures: [Left] The Beatles crossing Abbey Road in 1969. [Center] Bob Dylan, with his harmonica cigarette-holder in 1964. [Right] Fleetwood Mac band in 1979.
(2) Quote of the day: "I'm an expert on personality disorders. I don't just know a media portrayal of Donald Trump. I have hundreds of hours of behavior that I have observed on video of his own words not mediated by anyone. I have more samples of behavior and speech from Donald Trump than most of my patients." ~ John Gartner, a psychotherapist, who taught psychiatric residents at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, and founder of the "Duty to Warn" PAC, whose goal is to get Trump impeached on account of his mental instability
(3) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Low unemployment and worker participation rates show mismatch between market needs and worker skills.
- By referring to the Persian Gulf as "Arabian," Trump has united factions of normally-feuding Iranians.
- Iranian Baha'i poet and teacher Mahvash Sabet honored with the International Writer of Courage Award.
- Californians favor greater emphasis on science and computing education in K-12 schools.
- Students are increasingly hiring professionals to write their college application essays.
- Breakfast, anyone? Cheese, nuts, and fruit make this plate an appetizing one! [Photographer unknown]
(4) If Trump's tax plan is implemented:
- The Trump Family will save billions in inheritance and other taxes, recovering all the money spent on the presidential bid several times over.
- The Koch Brothers will get a handsome return on their investment in funding far-right causes, institutions, and politicians for decades.
- Corporations that used every possible loophole to pay less in taxes will get additional breaks; these include Big Oil, Big Pharma, and Big Health.
- Income-tax cuts for the middle class, if any, will be more than eaten up by elimination of certain exemptions, increased healthcare costs (not just premiums, but also out of pocket costs), and cuts to social programs.
(5) The impotent despot: Iran's Supreme Leader has pardoned a man serving a jail term for insulting the prophet and the imams, but no one in the judiciary or Evin Prison is paying any attention to his decree.
(6) A most blatant lie: Asked why he had not reached out to the families of four fallen US soldiers in Africa, Trump began with a lie (he had written letters that had not yet been mailed) and followed up with a string of lies about former presidents not doing it either. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama [photo] met with and personally comforted families as a matter of course.
(7) Half-baked nationalism: While accepting the Liberty Medal in Philadelphia on Monday night, Senator John McCain warned against turning toward "half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems."
[P.S.: In another report, Trump warned McCain to be careful, because at some point he will fight back.]

2017/10/16 (Monday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Trinity College library, Dublin, Ireland Snack service on a Scandinavian Airlines flight, 1969 Princess Fawzia Fuad of Egypt, the first wife of the last Shah of Iran, 1940s (1) History in pictures: [Left] Trinity College library, Dublin, Ireland. [Center] Snack service on a Scandinavian Airlines flight, 1969. [Right] Princess Fawzia Fuad of Egypt, the first wife of the last Shah of Iran, 1940s.
(2) A beautiful day and a new week begins: Besides opening my eyes to the colorful eastern sky in Goleta, I am glad that my waking up ended a dream that began fine but took a horrible turn. In the dream, I was trying to take a photo of gorgeous artwork inside a covered entryway and was about to give up, because of the poor lighting conditions, when a man approached me and offered to help make adjustments to my iPhone's camera settings to improve the image. He had in his hand what looked like an expensive camera, so I trusted him. You can guess the rest of the story. The funny thing is that as I was chasing him, l thought about all the time and effort needed to secure my accounts and recover lost data. I can now spend that time on something enjoyable on this hot Monday in Santa Barbara and Ventura areas.
(3) On the #MeToo movement: Since yesterday, many women have posted the Facebook status "Me Too," indicating that they too have experienced sexual harassment and/or assault. So, in solidarity, I am sharing this post of mine from a year ago today. In this essay entitled "Grab Her," a woman explains what it means to be groped, abused, chased, ignored, interrupted, talked over, talked down to, and feel unsafe when walking alone. In recent days, a number of men have posted stories about how they too were groped or assaulted as young men, implying that women can be predatory as well. I do accept their main point, but believe me when I say that the two experiences are not the same. I hope that someday they will become the same and the two sexes are treated equally and symmetrically. A day when all men start seeing women as human beings and not as objects of conquests; not as a brain and a bunch of other uninteresting body parts attached to the main sexual organs; a day when we men understand why a woman might keep a sexual assault under wraps for years or even take the secret to her grave.
[P.S.: I recommend watching the first 5-7 minutes of this 41-minute video, to hear Michelle Obama's take, in a speech of last year (more relevant than ever today), about the way women and girls are treated by many men. "This is not normal. This is not politics as usual. This is disgraceful and intolerable. ... No woman deserves to be treated this way."]
(4) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Ophelia: First-ever Atlantic storm to reach Ireland, has caused 3 deaths and widespread power outages.
- Massive double-car bombing kills at least 300 in Somalia. The terror group Al Shabab is being blamed.
- UCSB bows to changes in psychology by abolishing its BA program and offering BS degrees only.
- Just-opened walkway and bike path foretell the opening of UCSB's Bioengineering Building on Thu. 10/19.
- Cartoon caption of the day: Fortune cookie says "Someday you will die."
- Postmodern Jukebox transforms the Justin Bieber song "Love Yourself" into vintage-1929 New Orleans jazz.
(5) Childish name-calling among the Republicans: Trump has suddenly become friendly with Senator Rand Paul, whom he once called "Gollum" (animal-like creature from "Lord of the Rings"), and Senator Lindsey Graham, who has referred to Trump as "jackass." Meanwhile, Rex Tillerson, who refused to deny for the second time on Sunday that he called Trump "a moron" is on thin ice, judging by past Trump reactions towards those who cross or insult him.

2017/10/15 (Sunday): Here are six items of potential interest.
The sun shines through NYC's Grand Central Terminal in 1929, before it was surrounded by tall buildings Paper money recovered from the Titanic German kid with a portable lemonade stand, 1931 (1) History in pictures: [Left] The sun shines through NYC's Grand Central Terminal windows in 1929, before it was surrounded by tall buildings. [Center] Paper money recovered from the Titanic. [Right] German kid with a portable lemonade stand, 1931.
(2) Quote of the day: "The world is increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn't very good for the economy. ... To be calm becomes a kind of revolutionary act. To be happy with your own non-upgraded existence. To be comfortable with our messy, human selves, would not be good for business." ~ Matt Haig
(3) Is English the new tool of world dominance for America? In a way, by spreading cultural symbols and weakening local languages, English does seem to be expanding hegemony. Yet, when I look at my own case, learning English and, more recently, developing a passion for it, has opened my eyes and helped me, both personally and professionally. A "world language" is not only helpful, but inevitable. And, even though a newly-designed synthetic language may be a better choice, past failures in this domain have led to the de facto choice of English. Learning a second language is a time-intensive undertaking, so, it is very natural that people would choose one that carries some tangible benefits. For example, people in southern US tend to choose Spanish. China's economic progress and its becoming a world power has motivated many to learn Chinese.
(4) Talk is cheap, results matter: I am very surprised that a number of seemingly educated Trump supporters are jumping for joy at his recent words and actions regarding healthcare. Talk is cheap, results matter (look at the beautiful, tall wall that was supposed to be built along the US-Mexico border, with Mexican funding). The glee of the healthy about being able to pay less for less coverage is misguided. As we know from people around us, a healthy person can turn into a sick person overnight. The 2018 ACA premiums had been set before the recent Trump words and actions. I will talk to supporters of Trump's healthcare actions in late 2018, once the 2019 rates and coverage limits have been published.
(5) Video showing the devastation in Santa Rosa, California: Blocks and blocks of burned homes.
(6) On-skin interfaces: These interfaces constitute one of the two cover features in the October 2017 issue of IEEE Computer. The feature has an introduction by the guest editor, along with the following two articles.
- "On-Skin Interactions Using Body Landmarks": As a surface for input to computers, the human skin differs fundamentally from existing touch-sensitive devices. This article discusses the use of skin landmarks (anatomical characteristics, body adornments, and the like) that offer unique tactile and visual cues, to enhance body-based user interfaces.
- "Interactive Systems Based on Electrical Muscle Stimulation": EMS has been used since the 1960s in rehabilitative medicine to regenerate lost motor functions, but researchers have started to explore new EMS applications including guided training, muscle-propelled force feedback, novel forms of information access, and human-computer interaction.

2017/10/14 (Saturday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
T-shirt with the message 'Avoid Negativity' T-shirt with the message 'Intelligence is the Ability to Adapt to Change' T-shirt with the message 'That's How I Roll' (1) Scientists and engineers, flaunting their opinions on their T-shirts! [All three images on Facebook]
(2) Message to my oldest son, on the occasion of his 33rd birthday: A very happy 33rd birthday to you! Thirty-three is an interesting number, both mathematically and historically. It is 3 x 11, or (11)_10 x (11)_10, where the first (11)_10 is the base-2 representation of 3 and the second one is the base-10 representation of 11. Thirty-three is the sum of the first four positive factorials, 33 = 1! + 2! + 3! + 4! It is XXXIII in Roman numerals and 100001 in binary (the latter is a fact I will use for cake candles). It was the RPM speed of old phonograph LP records, which you likely have never seen! Speaking of records, 33 is the number of innings played in the longest baseball game on record. Finally, according to Al-Ghazali, the dwellers of heaven will exist eternally in a state of being age 33. [The Magic Number 33] [Photo set 1] [Photo set 2] [Photo set 3]
(3) The magic of TED talks: Here is a wonderful, quite funny, 19-minute TED talk about how our schools kill creativity: Try to imagine Shakespeare as a 7-year-old, being taught by an English teacher! And here is a second wonderful 18-minute TED talk about why we have trouble admitting that we are wrong.
(4) After income and wealth gaps, comes activity gap: A Stanford study, based on the smartphone data of 717,527 people worldwide over 68 million days of activity, has produced interesting results, including the fact that women walk far less than men. "While media coverage focused on the overall results (generating headlines such as Do YOU live in the world's laziest country?), the study shed new light on an important health inequality issue. The researchers found that high 'activity inequality'—where a country has a wide gap between those who walk a lot and those who walk very little—was a strong predictor for a nation's obesity levels among the 47 countries studied."
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- California leads again: Puppy breeding is banned by a new law. Pet stores must sell only rescue animals.
- Book bans precursors to book burnings: What is the moral justification for banning an anti-racism book?
- Death toll of Santa Rosa area fires reaches 40: Ill effects of climate change on full display. [Aerial photo]
- Usetul tip for pre-planning of hors d'oeuvres set-up for entertaining at home or taking plates to pot-lucks.
- Cartoons of day: Couldn't decide between the two, so I am posting both. [Images]
- Who is this baby actor? A tough one, but not impossible to identify, if you look carefully at facial features.
(6) The power of meaning: This is the title of a free lecture (to be presented by Emily Esfahani Smith at UCSB's Campbell Hall on Thursday, November 30, 2017, 7:30 PM) and of a book being given away on campus for the occasion. Looking forward to attending the talk.
(7) Donald Trump claims he spoke to the President of the Virgin Islands (did he speak to himself?). Rick Perry thinks that Puerto Rico is a country. This is a match made in heaven! As the Iranian Azeri saying goes, "bilah dig, bilah choghondar"!

2017/10/13 (Friday the 13th): Here are seven items of potential interest.
A gypsy-owned, horse-drawn caravan from the mid 1800s (1) History in pictures: Luxurious and colorful gypsy-owned, horse-drawn caravan from the mid-1800s.
(2) The 2017 ACM Turing Lecture: I logged on to listen to Silvio Micali's Turing Lecture entitled "Algorand: A Better Shared Ledger," as it was streaming live, beginning at 12:00 noon EDT (9:00 AM PDT) today. Very briefly, Algorand offers a computationally faster and less energy-intensive replacement for BitCoin-like distributed ledgers, while maintaining their security and trustworthiness. Unfortunately, the on-line presentation (screenshot) left much to be desired, in terms of sound quality and the fact that slides did not advance due to a platform snag. If ACM and other professional organizations are serious about spreading the benefits of on-line learning, they should do a better job of developing the needed user-friendly and aesthetically alluring platforms. I will pursue the off-line version of the lecture later and will present a brief report on it.
(3) The San Francisco Bay Area is suffering from very poor air quality: Raging fires have not only caused at least 30 deaths and immense loss of property, but they are threatening the health of millions.
(4) One-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- The marriage loophole for having sex with underage girls seems to be closing in India.
- The American Dream more accessible if you live in Denmark or Finland.
- Friends of Bill & Melinda Gates raise $30M for a U. Washington building, to be named after the couple.
- Cartoon of the day: Deadly California fires sadden and overwhelm Smokey the Bear. [Image]
- Three hurricanes, two earthquakes, and multiple major fires have stretched Direct Relief to the max.
- The doomsday eruption of of Yellowstone supervolcano may occur sooner than previously thought.
- Google commits $1 billion in grants to train US workers for high-tech jobs.
- This is a tough one: Who is this guy? [Hint: The word "guy" in the question is a subtle hint.]
- Bruce Arena resigns as coach of the US men's soccer team after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
- Stats for the 9/16 Day of Caring: 49 UCSB volunteers removed 1104 lbs of junk from 6 miles of IV streets.
- Gravity-defying statues. [Pictorial]
- Sign seen at a protest march: "Without Science It's Just Fiction." [Photo]
(5) White Christian male caught one week ago by a bomb-sniffing dog at a North Carolina airport: This bomb-planting is news to you? There were no tweets about the would-be bomber? The title of my post explains why.
(6) Trump finds the First-Amendment guarantee of the right to free speech disgusting; and his oath of office included an explicit pledge to safeguard free speech! He wrote in a tweet: "It's frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write, and people should look into it."
(7) Europeans on the nuclear deal with Iran: While stressing that they are also worried about Iran's destabilizing influence in the region, they see no need for pulling or renegotiating the nuclear deal, to which Iran has adhered by all measures. If the US reimposes sanctions on Iran, the EU will be more than happy to replace Boeing planes with Airbus models and to take over in other high-tech trade areas.

2017/10/12 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Robert Kennedy in a drive-in diner, 1960 The exact spot where JFK was killed in Dallas Theodore Roosevelt becoming the first president to ride in an automobile, 1902 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Robert Kennedy in a drive-in diner, 1960. [Center] The exact spot where President John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas; this is the last scene he saw. [Right] Theodore Roosevelt becoming the first president to ride in an automobile, 1902.
(2) Donald Trump makes up a story about the firing of his Chief of Staff John Kelly and then blames the media for it: No major news outlet had reported such a thing! According to Washington Post, Trump has made 1318 false or misleading claims over 263 days, for an average of 5 per day.
(3) Trump claims that the recent stock market gains are erasing the national debt: You'd think that a "successful businessman" would know something about economics, but you'd be wrong! Whoever is giving him these talking points is doing him no favor.
(4) US soccer shocker: For the first time in three decades, Team USA will not go to the soccer World Cup tournament. The embarrassing 1-2 loss to Trinidad and Tobago (last-place team in the qualifying group, with one win in 9 games) eliminated the US from the 2018 competition in Moscow. The United States would have qualified with a win or a tie. But a US loss, combined with Panama and Honduras winning over Costa Rica and Mexico, respectively, meant elimination.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Ancient hieroglyphs discovered in Turkey solve the mystery of the Biblical Mediterranean "Sea People."
- California couple, 100 and 98, married for 75 years, are two of the 21 people who perished in NorCal fires.
- With fires raging in both NorCal and SoCal, Santa Barbara also gets a red-flag warning for high fire danger.
- Cartoon of the day: The life of a memoirist. [Image]
- Farhang Foundation's Shab-e Yalda: An event of interest, although I'm not sure I will be able to attend.
- Eerie face-paintings and other 3D illusions created by make-up artists for Halloween.
(6) Why Amazon is different from many other high-tech businesses: Yes, Amazon deals in information, as do Google and Microsoft, but it "was never a completely virtual business," observes Michael A. Cusumano in the October 2017 issue of Communications of the ACM. Amazon began operating out of a warehouse and now, with the opening of its own stores and acquisition of Whole Foods, is moving further away from virtuality and closer to a physically-based company. Bezos likes to experiment and innovate to expand his company's reach, and, at least in the short term, isn't motivated by profits.
(7) The anonymous designer of this meme about Trump did not mince any words!
(8) Quote of the day: "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein." ~ From a US Supreme Court decision of 1943

2017/10/11 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
International Day of the Girl banner (1) On this International Day of the Girl, let us pledge to give girls (and boys) every opportunity they need to become tomorrow's leaders.
(2) A probability problem for serious geeks: It is about self-correcting random walks (the random-walking drunk is replaced with one having limited control).
(3) Will computers ever be able to think like humans? This has been a longstanding question in the field of artificial intelligence. In a wHaray, this question may be misguided. A recent interview with Douglas Hofstadter has brought this question to the forefront again. In the words of the late computer scientist Edsger Dijkstra, "The question of whether Machines Can Think ... is about as relevant as the question of whether Submarines Can Swim." Dijkstra's point was that planes do not fly like birds and submarines do not swim like fish, yet they are both quite useful in allowing humans to do tasks they aren't capable of doing by themselves. So why do we expect that computers should think like humans? The key question is whether computers can act like intelligent assistants to us, rather then whether they can replace us.
(4) Three cheers for American immigrants: Now that all Nobel Prizes for 2017 have been announced, it is time for some reflection. Approximately 40% of US Nobel Laureates in physics, chemistry, and medicine since 2000 have been immigrants (12 of 30 in physics; 11 of 29 in chemistry; 10 of 26 in medicine).
(5) The new MacArthur "Genius Grant" honorees are as diverse as they come, from both social and disciplinary points of view.
(6) Jimmy Kimmel responds to Donald Trump Jr.'s tweet: Junior asked Kimmel if he had any thoughts on Harvey Weinstein, the movie industry mogul ousted from the company that bears his name, owing to serious allegations of sexual misconduct (something conservatives are trying to exploit, given that Weinstein was a major donor to the Democratic Party and liberal politicians, conveniently forgetting their own association with the sexual-predator-in-chief). Here's what Kimmel wrote: "You mean that big story from the failing, liberal, one-sided @nytimes? I think it is disgusting."
(7) NAE announces winners of 2017 Ramo Founders and Bueche Awards for extraordinary impact on the engineering profession: National Academy of Engineering's Ramo Founders Award went to John E. Hopcroft, widely regarded as one of the most influential computer scientists. NAE's Bueche Award was given to Louis J. Lanzerotti "for his contributions to technology research, policy, and national and international cooperation."
(8) Iranian women and men unite in protesting mandatory hijab laws by wearing white on Wednesdays. [Photo credit: "My Stealthy Freedom" Facebook page]
(9) Growth at the cost of poisoning people: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt wants to repeal Obama's 2015 Clean Power Plan, which was put in place to cut carbon emissions by 30%. Released from the bonds of environmental regulations, some mines and manufacturing plants may become profitable and thus expand to create jobs, but at what cost? Workers in these industries as well as other Americans will be exposed to harmful emissions that will adversely affect their health, at precisely the same time when healthcare protections are being sabotaged by the administrations. Future generations will be left to pay for these shortsighted policies, which are reminiscent of corporate focus on quarterly statements and stock prices undermining long-term results.

2017/10/10 (Tuesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
An East German border guard offering a flower through a gap in the Berlin Wall on the morning it fell, 1989 Freed slaves by a canal in Richmond, Virginia, 1865 German soldiers cut off the beard of an old Jewish man (1) History in pictures: [Left] An East German border guard offering a flower through a gap in the Berlin Wall on the morning it fell, 1989. [Center] Freed slaves by a canal in Richmond, Virginia, 1865. [Right] German soldiers cut off the beard of an old Jewish man.
(2) The delay is troubling: The Clintons and Barack Obama are being rightly criticized for staying mum on recent allegations of sexual misconduct against Harvey Weinstein, a major contributor to their political campaigns. They will no doubt say something soon, but the delay in making statements is troubling, especially in the case of Hillary Clinton, a champion of women's rights. [Image]
[P.S.: By the end of the day, condemnation statements from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were issued.]
(3) Northern California fires burning out of control: The containment level is 0%, because of high winds and dry conditions making the fires burn super-hot and spread super-fast. Some residents, who were waken up by smoke, escaped with literally seconds to spare (a number of cars caught fire as they were being driven out of the area). There are at least 15 dead, hundreds missing, and 2000 structures destroyed. This image shows a neighborhood in Santa Rosa before and after the fire. There are aslo fires raging in Anaheim, close to Disneyland in Southern California.
(4) Europeans are making fun of our Nonsensical Rifle Addiction (NRA) and suggest that NRA Anonymous can help deal with the problem! [3-minute video]
(5) Tehran's Thakht-e Jamshid Street in the 1960s: I believe the two views are looking west and east from Kaakh Circle. If so, in the color photo, a couple of blocks away on the right, was Ferdowsi Elementary School, which I attended, and the 2-story brick building on the right contained a small grocery store ("bagh'aali") where we sometimes bought snacks during lunch hour. Across the street from Ferdowsi School were a stationary store, a sandwich shop, and various street vendors. The street ended at the eastern boundary of Tehran University. In the black-and-white photo, a couple of blocks past the tall Oil Ministry Building, and on the same side of the street, was the US Embassy.
(6) Imprisoned British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe faces additional charges from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps that would be punishable by 16 more years in prison, reports Maziar Bahari on Iranwire. Apparently, IRGC are using Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe's case as a threat to gain leverage over President Rouhani and his government.
(7) The risks of artificial intelligence (AI): For decades, we have been working to make computers more trustworthy, primarily by increasing their predictability and auditability. The entire field of dependable computing emerged in the early 1970s, and continues to be an active area of research, including for yours truly, to ensure that computers behave according to their specs and that any deviation from the expected behavior can be readily detected and subjected to remedial action. Now, AI builds unpredictability into our computers and computer-based systems, making it difficult, if not impossible, to monitor and check their behaviors against pre-supplied specs. In an interesting "Inside Risks" column in Communications of the ACM, issue of October 2017 (pp. 27-31), long-time software-engineering expert David Lorge Parnas chimes in on the dangers of AI, including heuristic algorithms, to system trustworthiness.

2017/10/09 (Monday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Jesse Owens winning a gold medal in Nazi Germany's 1936 Olympics Tollund Man, a perfectly preserved 2300-year-old corpse A copy of Uthman's Quran from the early 600s, kept in Topkapi Palace in Istanbul (1) History in pictures: [Left] Jesse Owens winning a gold medal in Nazi Germany's 1936 Olympics. [Center] Tollund Man, a perfectly preserved 2300-year-old corpse. [Right] A copy of Uthman's Quran from the early 600s, kept in Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.
(2) Wonkavators allow architects to be more creative: By moving up and down and sideways without using cables, they free architects from the constraint of strictly vertical skyscrapers and the height limit dictated by cable weight and extreme area waste due to many elevator shafts. With Wonkavators, many cabins can be moving in one shaft.
(3) First US exascale computer to be built by 2021: The project, dubbed "Aurora," is a modification and extension of an earlier plan to deliver 180-200 petaflops by 2018. The change came about because the US Department of Energy was disappointed in the inability of an Intel/Cray partnership to fulfill its objectives.
(4) The wonderful music of James Bond films: The plots may be unbelievable and the special effects (until fairly recently) cheesy, but the music is always first-rate, thanks to the foundation laid by John Barry.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Trump's treating the presidency like "The Apprentice" could lead to WW III, says Senator Bob Corker.
- Most-destructive fires in state's history raging in northern California: Ten dead, 1500 structures lost
- NYT reporter claims her story exposing Harvey Weinstein's sexual misconduct was quashed in 2004.
- Tops of UCSB parking structures were retrofitted with solar panels as part of our green energy initiative.
- Brutal murder, posted on social media, shocks Iran: A young man was bludgeoned, then burned to death.
- South Korea can now build graphite bombs, non-lethal weapons for taking down N. Korea's power system.
(6) Ideas that lead to Nobel Prizes aren't always accepted at first: Here is a list of 8 papers that were rejected at first but later won the world's most prestigious scientific award.
(7) What is blockchain? I pursued this question and am sharing a summary of my findings here. An introductory article (by T. Aste, P. Tasca, T. di Mateo) in the September 2017 special issue of IEEE Computer magazine begins thus: "Blockchain is a technology that uses community validation to keep synchronized the content of ledgers replicated across multiple users. Although blockchain derives its origins from technologies introduced decades ago, it has gained popularity with Bitcoin."
People trust regular currency, because it is difficult to forge and occasional forgers are vigorously prosecuted. If you claim that you have a certain amount of money, and actually have that amount of money, the claim is verifiable by trusted sources that keep track of financial transactions. In the case of Bitcoin, transactions are broadcast to a network and their validity is verified by peers. Once validated, transactions are collected into blocks that are cryptographically sealed. The blocks are then competitively interlocked like a chain, hence the name. There is no central authority; everything is fully distributed.
In essence, blockchain allows machines to act as intermediaries between humans that do not trust each other. Blockchain is an important special case of distributed ledger technologies, which include other methods of decentralized record-keeping and data-sharing across multiple servers. The winner of this year's ACM Turing Award, Silvio Micali, will talk about "Algorand: A Better Distributed Ledger" on Friday, October 13, 2017, beginning at 12:00 noon EDT. You can sign up to hear the lecture without being an ACM member.
(8) The 2017 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences: The Prize went to Richard H. Thaler (U. Chicago) for integrating economics with psychology, founding the field of behavioral economics which replaces rational decision-making with limited rationality, social preferences, and lack of self-control.

2017/10/08 (Sunday): Here are five items of potential interest.
New York City, circa 1900 New York City's Times Square in 1903 Paris in 1900 (1) History in pictures: [Left] New York, circa 1900. [Center] NYC's Times Square, 1903. [Right] Paris, 1900.
(2) Practical solution to the problem of guns in the US: If NFL athletes, instead of kneeling, stand up during the National Anthem while holding a rifle above the head, we will have gun control legislation by halftime! ["The Daily Show" video clip]
(3) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Driver and several others taken to hospital, as truck crashes into the side of a Santa Barbara restaurant.
- This must be the brand of paper towels Trump threw at Puerto Ricans during his visit to the island!
- Clever "Black Lives Matter" T-shirt for science buffs.
- Hurricane Nate's projected path and timeline. [Map]
- A very Parisian way to avoid floodwaters! [B&W photo]
- Rows 1-3 of a triangle are shown in this image. What would the 100th row be if we extend the triangle?
(4) California Avocado Festival: Like many other festivals in the US, this one is mostly about food! Aromas of BBQ and guacamole were very enticing, but I had eaten just before arriving, so they weren't difficult to resist. Being outdoors on a gorgeous day and doing some walking made the trip worthwhile for me. [Music video]
(5) Today's talk about Iran at UCLA (4:00 PM, 121 Dodd Hall): Dr. Kamran Talattof (U. Arizona) delivered the talk "Sexuality and Cultural Change in Iranian Cinema" under the auspices of the UCLA Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran, that began its 2017-2018 program today. Tomorrow, Dr. Talattof will present an English lecture entitled "What Kind of Wine Did Rudaki Fancy" (2:00 PM, 348 UCLA Humanities Building). The lecture series, under the directorship of Dr. Nayereh Tohidi, has become quite popular and serves an important need of Southern California's large Iranian-American community and others who are interested in learning about Iran.
In his research, Dr. Talattof focuses on issues of gender, sexuality, ideology, culture, language pedagogy, and creation of cultural artifacts. Among his many publications is the award-winning volume Modernity, Sexuality, and Ideology in Iran: The Life and Legacy of a Popular Female Artist, which tells the story of Shahrzad, a dancer, actress, filmmaker, and poet, who performed in theater productions, became an acclaimed film star, flirted with journalism and poetry, was imprisoned after the Islamic Revolution, and eventually became homeless on the streets of Tehran. Today's talk can be viewed as an elaboration and expansion on a small part of the latter book.
Dr. Talattof began with a discussion of modernity in Iran and why, despite significant efforts over the past century, it has never really taken hold. There are various theories as to why anti-modernity forces were able to foil attempts at establishing true modernity. As a result, Iranian society has become what Dr. Talattof terms "modernoid": having the outward appearances of modernity, without exhibiting its key characteristics and benefits. His thesis is that lack of attention to, or insufficient treatment of, issues of sexuality is one of the main factors that inhibits progress toward true modernity. In film and cinema, we find excellent examples that allow us to formulate and analyze this problem. Cinema has a long tradition in Iran. It took hold and was viewed as a serious art form shortly after its introduction in Iran, to the point of being deemed on par with poetry and other traditional art forms dear to Iranians.
In the 1960s and 1970s, a decadent form of cinema, named derisively as "FilmFarsi" (literally, "PersianFilm") spread and formed the basis of a profitable and prolific film industry. The formulaic stories of these films often had a poor or rich girl wanting to marry a man belonging to the opposite social class, a man falling for a cabaret dancer or prostitute (the two being viewed as one and the same in Iranian culture of the day), and slapstick comedies, a la "Three Stooges." Women were routinely objectified and depicted as weak, dependent souls who needed the protection of the male protagonist. Manliness was a recurring theme and a big part of many movie plots, where a man's authority or virility was threatened, only to be restored by the end of the film.
FilmFarsi titles were often not shown in top-notch movie theaters, because they were frowned upon by most intellectuals, who preferred foreign films (usually dubbed into Persian). Although depiction of sex and sexuality was by no means explicit, some films were viewed as going too far in their partial nudity and suggestive dialog, given Iran's social norms at the time.
In fact, Dr. Talattof's examination of official documents of that era has revealed that certain government officials openly worried about film depiction of female characters (and the giant, sexually arousing posters that graced movie-theater marquees) had gone too far and likely to create a backlash within the society's conservative elements. These excesses of the film industry are some of the key elements often cited for the success of Islamic Revolution and for cinema becoming dormant for several years after the Revolution. In fact, revolutionaries resorted to burning movie theaters to show their distaste for what they considered decadent forms of culture promoted by the Shah and by his Western allies.
The movie "Gheisar" is often cited as a turning point because of its treatment of more important social issues, although it still had some of FilmFarsi elements. Subsequently, serious filmmakers appeared on the scene and Iranian art films began to make a good showing at international venues and festivals.
The story of Iranian cinema after the Revolution is quite interesting. After the initial hiatus, films emerged that tackled the safe subjects of Shah's secret police, ridiculing the leftists and intellectuals, and later, depicting the Iran-Iraq war. Within a few years, filmmakers had gathered the courage to make films about relationships, social issues such as poverty, and cultural dichotomies, without being overtly political. They often had to change the story-line or dialog to satisfy the censors.
An important challenge for post-revolutionary filmmakers was the depiction of intimate relationships. A man taking a woman home (of course, after officially entering into temporary-marriage with her) would open the door, with the couple going in and the door closing behind them, as the camera remains fixed on the closed door. A scene happening in the bedroom of a married couple presented similar challenges. It would be utterly artificial for the woman to appear in bed with a manteau and headscarf, so the filmmaker had to find alternatives, such as filming in the dark.
One of the remarkable feats of Iranian cinema in recent decades has been the filmmakers' ability to tell interesting and complex stories in the face of restrictions on content and appearance of actors/actresses. Many influential filmmakers have emerged, each with his/her own ingenious schemes for getting around the myriad restrictions, while still telling an interesting story.
The 105-minute lecture was longer than usual, in part because Dr. Talattof showed several film clips to exemplify the points he wanted to make. A brief question-and-answer period ensued, before we had to leave the lecture hall a few minutes after 6:00 PM. [Photos of the speaker and movie posters]

2017/10/07 (Saturday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Cover image of Candice Bergen's 'A Fine Romance' (1) Book review: Bergen, Candice, A Fine Romance, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2015.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
In this intelligently-written book, a follow-up to her best-selling autobiography (Knock Wood), Bergen begins with her marriage to French director Louis Malle, and covers a number of subsequent events in her life: The birth of her daughter, Chloe, her successful and controversial TV series "Murphy Brown" (1988-1998), losing Malle to cancer, finding love again with New York real estate magnate Marshall Rose, and raising her daughter to become an independent adult.
Bergen's writing style is charming, honest, and funny. She does come across as privileged and a tad whiny on occasion, but these are small blemishes on an otherwise wonderful book. Of course, the faults are easier to forgive if, like me, you are an admirer of Bergen's acting talent, comic chops, and looks.
Bergen, like Mary Tyler Moore before her, came to represent the modern, liberated, independent, opinionated, professional woman through her TV persona, and thus got into scuffles with the likes of Vice-President Dan Quayle, when her Murphy Brown character decided to have a child without getting married and defied other social norms of her days.
Other readers' opinions about this book are quite varied, with assessments ranging from "painfully boring" to "entertaining and well-written." Many readers who did not like this book praised Bergen's earlier memoir.
(2) Ten brief news headlines and other interesting items from around the Internet:
- Helicopters mimic drones to become safer and easier to fly. [Annotated image: E&T magazine]
- High-winds test: Here's how a typical US home would fare under 100 mph wind.
- Erasing data won't erase the problems: FEMA removed Puerto Rico's unflattering stats from its Web site.
- Logical answer to an ignorant tweet about trucks and guns!
- To-do list, attributed to the late country music star Johnny Cash: He likely meant it as a joke.
- Cartoon of the day: Ant identification. [By John Atkinson]
- Caught a wonderful musical performance last night on PBS SoCal (KOCE). [Sample 1] [Sample 2]
- Tillerson's exit will cost Trump dearly: But that high cost is unlikely to save his job.
- In a thwarted plan, three ISIS-inspired men wanted to bomb NYC's landmarks, the subway, and concerts.
- Can solar solve Puerto Rico's electric-power problems? Elon Musk thinks so and has offered a proposal.
(3) Three teens arrested in Carpinteria (near Santa Barbara): One Carpinteria High student had posted a photo with a firearm along with a threatening text. The other two, identified when the first teen was investigated, also face firearms-related charges.
(4) Trump's tweet of October 7, 2017, 5:04 AM: "More and more people are suggesting that Republicans (and me) should be given Equal Time on T.V. when you look at the one-sided coverage?"
My response: By ending the tweet with a question mark, you seem to agree that your demand is questionable. Anyway, I'm sure they would be glad to comply, if you too gave them equal time on your Twitter feed!
(5) This afternoon at Santa Barbara's La Cumbre Plaza: On a relatively hot day, a keyboardist played tunes from The Great American Songbook [Sample 1] [Sample 2] and people were enjoying various activities, such as reading (me), oversized board games, and more.

2017/10/06 (Friday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Sexy Albert Einstein in 1932 A group of samurai from Japan visiting the Sphinx in Egypt, 1863 An 8-year-old coal miner in the early 1900s (1) History in pictures: [Left] Sexy Albert Einstein in 1932! [Center] A group of samurai from Japan visiting the Sphinx in Egypt, 1863. [Right] An 8-year-old coal miner in the early 1900s.
(2) Cats behaving badly: In Australia, cats kill one million birds per day: Some bird species are facing possible extinction as a result.
(3) Ten brief news headlines from Time magazine on-line:
- ICAN, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons, was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.
- Tropical storm Nate is moving north to threaten New Orleans and other Gulf Coast regions in the US.
- NRA chief blames Hollywood for Las Vegas mass shooting (I guess he forgot to mention fake news)!
- After dining with US military leaders, Trump characterizes the meeting as "the calm before the storm."
- Hawaii, the first state to challenge Trump's earlier travel bans, takes on the new ban in court.
- Robert Meuller's team interviews former British spy Christopher Steele (of the "Trump Dossier" fame).
- US-based employees of the Kremlin-linked Russia Today news service are leaving in droves.
- Elon Musk's Tesla company offers to fix Puerto Rico's energy crisis with solar panels and batteries.
- Huge celestial fireball appears in the night sky, as Superboldie Meteorite explodes over China.
- Twelve-mile-wide comet, the furthest such observation, has been spotted hurtling towards the sun.
(4) Gun control and safety: How did a serious discussion of gun control and safety deteriorate into passing legislation banning a single device that converts semi-automatic rifles into automatic ones? Yes, the bump-stock device was responsible for massive deaths and injuries in Las Vegas, but in the grand scheme of things, the total number of deaths that would be prevented by banning the said device is a tiny fraction of all gun deaths. Very few mass shootings involve automatic or converted semi-automatic rifles. And the bulk of gun deaths are not from mass shootings. A good chunk of gun deaths results from children finding guns at home and "accidentally" shooting themselves or a relative. Don't get me wrong, such a ban would be great, but only as part of comprehensive gun control legislation.
(5) The first paragraph from Abraham Flexner's 1939 article, "The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge," on which a 2017 book by the same name (see my blog for Wednesday 2017/10/04), is based:
"Is it not a curious fact that in a world steeped in irrational hatreds which threaten civilization itself, men and women—old and young—detach themselves wholly or partly from the angry current of daily life to devote themselves to the cultivation of beauty, to the extension of knowledge, to the cure of disease, to the amelioration of suffering, just as though fanatics were not simultaneously engaged in spreading pain, ugliness, and suffering? The world has always been a sorry and confused sort of place—yet poets and artists and scientists have ignored the factors that would, if attended to, paralyze them. From a practical point of view, intellectual and spiritual life is, on the surface, a useless form of activity, in which men indulge because they procure for themselves greater satisfactions that are otherwise obtainable. In this paper I shall concern myself with the question of the extent to which the pursuit of these useless satisfactions proves unexpectedly the source from which undreamed-of utility is derived."
Puzzle regarding a fractal shape (6) [As bad news keeps piling up, here is my sign-off post for today to distract you, if you are so inclined!] Math puzzle: Start with an equilateral triangle (image 0 on the left), divide each side of length 1 into 3 equal segments, and replace the middle segment with two segments of the same length that bulge out (image 1, after one step). This will increase the perimeter of the figure from 3 to 4. Repeat this process for 9 more steps (the next two steps, images 2 and 3, are also shown). What is the perimeter of the 10th figure?

2017/10/05 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Screenshot of ResearchGate showing 1511 reads for my article (1) An article of mine has been read by over 1500 people on just one research site: My research publications tend to be highly specialized and are often read by at most a few dozens of researchers with technical interests similar to mine. So, it surprised me to find out that "Low Acceptance Rates of Conference Papers Considered Harmful" (IEEE Computer, Vol. 49, No. 4, pp. 70-73, April 2016), which is somewhat more general in scope and less technical in content, has been read 1511 times already on ResearchGate. This is, in part, thanks to prominent social-media users posting about and discussing it.
(2) At one point, I was hoping for Rex Tillerson's resignation: Now, I hope he stays. According to retiring Senator Bob Corker, Tillerson, Mattis, and Kelly are the only obstacles to chaos in our country.
(3) Examples of posters, from Southern California (left) and Nice, France, announcing the celebration of the ancient Iranian festival of autumn. [Image]
(4) Communication between smart cars: When a car is driving right behind another one, its view of the road ahead is limited. It is possible to acquire a complete view by communicating with the car driving ahead. So, the parallel with the saying "two heads are better than one" is "two smart cars are better than one"!
(5) Iraqi Kurds celebrate the huge 98% approval in their independence referendum, but the practical implications of this win remain unclear. [Photo credit: Time magazine]
(6) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting finds on the Internet:
- The 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature goes to Kazuo Ishiguro, whose novels include The Remains of the Day.
- Here's what the official NRA magazine @AmericanHunter tweeted hours before the Las Vegas mass murder.
- Las Vegas mass shooting: Some memes and cartoons.
- Who was the genius behind the idea that the POTUS should throw paper-towel rolls at Puerto Ricans?
- Lone wolves gather in the wild to issue a joint statement: "Stop comparing crazy white mass shooters to us!"
- The perfect gift for your favorite nerd this Christmas. ["Oh Chemis Tree" T-shirt]
(7) Artificial intelligence benefits outweigh risks: According to Google engineering director Ray Kurzweil, AI will be far more beneficial than harmful, and the "singularity" when computers overtake human intelligence should be welcomed. Kurzweil bases his opinion on human history, where technological innovation has helped humanity more often than worsened it. While Kurzweil acknowledges that all technologies pose risks and that the risks of powerful ones (biotechnology, nanotechnology, AI) are potentially existential, he is certain that the elimination of certain trades will be offset by the creation of new types of jobs. "It creates a difficult political issue because you can look at people driving cars and trucks, and you can be pretty confident those jobs will go away. And you can't describe the new jobs, because they're in industries and concepts that don't exist yet."
(8) Faculty Research Lecture: Annually, UCSB honors one of its faculty members by asking the honoree to deliver a general-audience public lecture. Today, at Corwin Pavilion, Professor Charles E. Samuel, of our MCDB Department, spoke under the title "Viral Threats to Humankind: Antivirals and Lessons Learned from Interferons." Much progress has been made in developing virus-specific vaccines, to the extent that some viral afflictions have been eradicated. However, we do not have vaccines for all viruses and, in many cases, no treatment once the illness sets in. A potent anti-viral agent, interferon, discovered in 1957, interferes with virus growth (non-virus-type-specific) and provides a first line of defense for the human body. Whereas I understood the main message of the talk and the importance of interferons, I was disappointed with the pace and tone of the speaker, which was quite inappropriate for a public talk to an audience of mostly non-specialists.

2017/10/04 (Wednesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Cover image for Abraham Flexner's book 'The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge' (1) Book introduction for science buffs: Flexner, Abraham, with a companion essay by Robert Dijkgraaf, The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge, Princeton University Press, 2017.
The thesis of this book is that focusing solely on short-term applied research is misguided. We should strike a balance between applied and basic research. Basic research that seems to be useless today will inevitably turn valuable in future. For example, the invention of radio is often credited to Guglielmo Marconi, but earlier experimentation and theoretical development by Faraday, Hertz, and Maxwell should not be forgotten. Here is an article by the author from 1939 making the exact same point. Flexner lived from 1866 to 1959, so this book presents some of his work from decades ago, along with modern examples that confirm his thesis.
(2) Engineering identified as the top major for world's wealthiest people: Among the world's top 100 wealthiest people, the largest number (22) have majored in engineering. The list includes Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Larry Page of Google. [Source: Business Insider, based on a poll conducted by British recruiting firm Aaron Wallis]
(3) Don't worry, your personal information will be safe! Equifax, the company that lost to hackers the personal info for nearly half of all Americans, whose execs sold off their stock holdings after they learned about the massive data breach, but before telling us about it, and whose CEO "retired" after the breach with a multi-million-dollar parting gift, has been hired by IRS to help with "taxpayer and personal identity verification service." And I am not joking!
(4) Can you guess the party affiliation of an anti-abortion US Representative who sent a text message to his mistress, asking her to get an bortion?
(5) Why is it that what would have been knock-out punches for any other politician simply make Trump wobble for a while and return to upright position? Question of the day, indeed! [Time magazine cover image]
(6) Gerrymandering, via an example: This chart, from Time magazine, issue of October 9, 2017, shows why it is a good idea for Congressional districts to be drawn by non-partisan entities. It shows a hypothetical state with 60% red voters, 40% blue voters, and 5 districts (thus 5 representatives). Districting map 1 is fair, as it leads to the election of 3 red and 2 blue reps, in proportion to the population's political leanings. Districting map 2 results in 5 red reps, leaving the blue minority unrepresented. Districting map 3 leads to the minority actually gaining a majority 3 out of 5 reps. As I write, there are weirdly-shaped Congressional districts in which geographically separated areas are connected by a road, along with houses on its two sides. You may be in the same district with someone who lives 50 miles away, but in different districts with your left-side and right-side neighbors. See the map of the most gerrymandered districts (from a different on-line source) at the link above.
(7) Tonight's concert by Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles at UCSB: The event was preceded by a party, with DJ music, free goodies, and more in front of the venue, under a nearly full moon. The concert itself was a high-energy program that had the audience members clapping and singing along. The last song performed brought the audience to their feet. Here is an 18-minute video of the group's work from YouTube.

2017/10/03 (Tuesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Waterfall in Ecuador Transforming war ('harb') to love ('hubbun'), by hiding its middle letter in Arabic Improvising for some fun, with minimal resources (1) Three interesting photos: [Left] Waterfall in Ecuador. [Center] Transforming war ('harb') to love ('hubbun'), by hiding its middle letter in Arabic. [Right] Improvising for some fun, with minimal resources.
(2) Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to three American researchers for the first observations of gravitational waves: Rainer Weiss is honored with half of the prize. Kip Thorne and Barry Barish will share the other half.
(3) Trump in Puerto Rico: He downplayed PR's dire conditions by citing the death toll of only 16. He told Puerto Ricans that they have thrown "our budget a little out of whack," as if they caused or invited the storm.
(4) Trevor Noah's insightful take on the Las Vegas mass-shooting tragedy: Why is it that some people say this is no time to discuss gun safety? Don't we discuss airline and flight safety right after a plane crashes, or infrastructural problems the same day a bridge collapses?
(5) Half-dozen brief items from the news, personal stories, and Internet postings:
- Portraits of Las Vegas massacre victims begin to emerge. And here are more portraits.
- White privilege in action: Criticizing how some media reports try to humanize the Las Vegas mass killer.
- Near-miss: A 100-foot asteroid will pass within a mere 27,000 miles of Earth on October 12, 2017.
- Israel plans to build an artificial island in Gaza, with air/sea ports, power station, and desalination plant.
- Tillerson working quietly to save the Iran nuclear deal, as the October 15 certification deadline nears.
- Mattis contradicts Trump on the Iran nuclear deal: Says US interest lies in sticking with the deal.
(6) You have more in common with the world, including people you hate, than you think: Proud Kurd finds out through DNA analysis that she is mostly Iranian/Turk/Jewish. Interestingly, DNA analysis of this kind is possible because for much of human history, we have been confined to the vicinity of our birthplace. DNA analysis of human remains from various regions allows us to deduce connections for living people who do the test. We are now quite mobile and within a couple of centuries (my guess), differences will all but disappear.
(7) Charity recommendation: Direct Relief International has been the charity of my choice through the recent Atlantic hurricanes and Mexico quakes. If you don't know where to donate or are dissatisfied with organizations you have used in the past, please look into DRI. Reports from Puerto Rico show them to be front and center in a wide array of relief efforts.
(8) The new "Star Trek: Discovery" TV series will have two women of color in lead roles: Just as was the case for the "Ghostbusters" film with female leads, reaction to CBS's casting decision has been nasty. Ever since Gene Roddenberry's creation, "Star Trek" has been a leader in raising awareness of social issues, such as introducing the first inter-racial kiss on American TV in 1968. I, for one, am rooting for the success of the new series. It's about time women are given roles they deserve based on merit. [Adapted from: Time magazine, issue of October 2, 2017]

2017/10/02 (Monday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Refrigerator, 1920s Captain Kirk of 'Star Trek' in a scene involving the first inter-racial kiss on American TV How babies used to fly on airplanes (1) History in pictures: [Left] Refrigerator, 1920s. [Center] Captain Kirk of "Star Trek" in a scene involving the first inter-racial kiss on American TV. [Right] How babies used to fly on airplanes.
(2) October 2, 1988, was the day we arrived in California from Canada: Next year will be the big 30th anniversary of arrival in Santa Barbara and working at UCSB. Still love the place after 29 years!
(3) Bernie Sanders digs up a Donald Trump tweet from 2015 about the absolute necessity of saving out social safety nets. Medicare will be gutted according to his budget proposal. Medicaid were to be eliminated altogether according to his healthcare plan.
(4) Gunman (now dead) fires from Mandalay Bay's 32nd floor on attendees of a Las Vegas music festival, using an automatic assault rifle, killing at least 50 and injuring more than 400, many critically. Unfortunately, if past events are any indication, no gun-control law will result from this horrible incident. This isn't a Second-Amendment issue but one of common sense and human empathy.
(5) Half-dozen brief items from the news, personal stories, and Internet postings:
- Tom Petty dead at 66 of cardiac arrest: Here's one of his hit songs, "You Don't Know How It Feels." RIP.
- Summer months wasted, leaving major repairs of UCSB's walkways to this first week of classes.
- Seven hilarious photo pose re-creations. [Pictorial]
- Sholeh-zard emojis. [Photo] [Should make it clear these Persian treats aren't my work!]
- Trump opponents and allies, according to comedian Tony Posnanski's tweet: "Just a reminder ... Hillary—Nasty | Mayor of San Juan—Nasty | NFL Players—Sons Of Bitches | Democrats—Losers | Nazis—Fine People
- Maybe Lady Gaga is on to something: xoxo, Gaga @ladygaga "Oh I see @realDonaldTrump you're not helping PR because of the electoral votes u need to be re-elected #Florida=29 #Texas=38 #PuertoRico=0"
(6) Three American scientists awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine: Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael Young are honored for helping to explain how biological clocks work.
(7) Technical talk: Today, I attended a talk by Hsien-Hsin Sean Lee (Deputy Director of TSMC and Associate Professor at Georgia Tech) entitled "Moore and More: Design Trends and Challenges of Modern Chips." The main focus of the talk was extreme design and manufacturing difficulties as we move into the 7-nanometer regime and the necessity of leveraging various 3D IC technologies to make further progress when Moore's Law expires.
(8) Social/technical gathering: Members of IEEE's Central Coast Section and their guests met at Goleta's Rusty's Pizza for a pizza-and-beer mixer and to hear Dr. Michael C. Wicks of University of Dayton present a talk entitled "Advanced Sensor Concepts, Exploitation, Signal Processing, and Systems Engineering." The focus of the talk was how the availability of cheap sensors and the massive amounts of data they collect is changing many technologies and applications.

2017/10/01 (Sunday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Our beautiful world: Lake Louise, Canada (1) Our beautiful world: Lake Louise, Canada.
(2) Iran, 33 years after 1984: How PhotoShop is being used to alter historical photographs, a la "1984," to match the narratives of the Islamic regime. A photo of a mosque was PhotoShopped to insert Ayatollah Khamenei's image alongside that of Ayatollah Khomeini. In another instance, photo of a cabinet meeting was cropped in a textbook to remove Mir Hossein Mousavi, who appeared seated on the right edge.
(3) Interesting info about codes on your cell phone: One wonders, though, why the codes are secret and why the associated useful functionalities aren't provided in a more convenient form. I don't want to lock something and then not remember the code for unlocking it!
(4) Women are inferior, according to many Islamic clerics and their followers: In the aftermath of ending the driving ban for women in Saudi Arabia, a prominent cleric, who believed women should not drive because they have only a quarter of a brain, has been prohibited from preaching and other activities. The cleric had elaborated that women only have half a brain to begin with, but when they go out shopping, they end up with only a quarter. Maybe the rule for having four wives stems from this view: it's just a way of getting a complete brain in your women collectively! If I were him, I would stay indoors for a while due to the danger of being run over by the new female drivers!
(5) Ten brief news and other personal/on-line stories of the day:
- Anti-Fascist protesters confront far-right Neo-Nazis, who took to the streets in Sweden on Yom Kippur.
- Cymatics: Science and music linked in awe-inspiring experiments. [6-minute video]
- Chuck Schumer exposes Trump's tax-cuts-for-the-rich plan being peddled as tax-reform plan.
- Afghan soccer player Nadieh Nadim to join Manchester City's women's team.
- Further to my post on Hugh Hefner's passing, this article also suggests that he helped normalize misogyny.
- Women leaders in software engineering: The list compiled by Anita Borg Institute.
- Don't you wish your President would give this speech on diversity and race relations, and really mean it?
- Will Rex Tillerson be the next Trump cabinet member to go? [Trump tweet of 1 October 2017, 7:30 AM]
- Time to set aside Trump and his silly tweets to get some real work done! And here's the result.
- Did some work in the garage to clear up my little workspace, where I do minor repairs and small projects.
(6) Isn't it ironic that the guy who colluded with a country that wants to undermine the American democratic system represented by our flag is demanding that others respect that flag? [Bill Maher's take]
(7) [Final thought for the day] "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match: Tennis star Billie Jean King related in an interview with Seth Meyers that a 12-year-old Barack Obama watched her match against Bobby Riggs on TV and that he later told her that watching the match changed his life as the father of two daughters.

2017/09/30 (Saturday): Here are six items of potential interest.
US National Parks fundraising T-shirt (1) US national parks are in grave danger: The Trump administration plans to sell parts of our national parks to mining companies and developers. If you have been to national parks and enjoyed their serene beauty, consider helping the effort to fight these misguided policies. [Fundraising T-shirt]
(2) Puerto Ricans are suffering: San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz is really upset that Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke called Puerto Rico's recovery a "good news story." "This is a people are dying story; this is a life-or-death story," she said. Later, the Bully-in-Chief attacked the mayor caught in the middle of a humanitarian crisis. Can't get more narcissistic than this. Here's the Trump tweet:
"The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump."
People are dying, Mr. President! This isn't about you! Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz is living in a shelter, having lost her home. Any normal human being would give her a break, in light of her dire living conditions and feeling of helplessness as her people suffer. [Another Trump tweet, with response]
(3) Puerto Rico may become a testing ground for new electricity grid innovations: Among new methods being considered at Department of Energy's national labs is a collapsible grid system that can come down in high winds but be quickly restorable. Then, small modular nuclear reactors can be transported by cargo planes to the disaster area and plugged into the restored grid to provide temporary power. [Source: Bloomberg]
(4) Ten brief news and other personal/on-line stories of the day:
- Today's pets: My daughter told me she needed to order a book using my Amazon Prime account, because her kittens partially ate a loan copy. I agreed, but suggested that the kittens should at least write a review!
- Target has announced that it is raising its starting pay to $11 per hour, pledging to reach $15 in 2020. The main reason is to be able to attract and keep employees in a competitive job market.
- The US Senate committee investigating Russia ties chides Jared Kushner for failing to disclose his use of a private e-mail account for official WH business when he turned over records of his pertinent communications.
- Whole Foods has revealed a data breach for customers who made in-store purchases.
- Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigns amid serious questions about his use of private jets for travel: I guess the "Price" wasn't right for this country!
- The Trump administration is trying to roll back decades worth of civil rights gains: This time, it is proposing that companies should be allowed to consider an employee's "out-of-work sexual conduct" in making decisions.
- Sports Illustrated, issue of October 2, 2017, cover image: SI makes a political statement, but plays it safe by excluding a controversial athlete.
- Can you name the beautiful actress shown in her 20s in this photo?
- Israeli-Iranian singer Rita's 16-minute TEDx presentation, including some music and the story of her family's immigration from Iran to Israel when she was 8.
- "Welcome to the driver's seat": Ford's clever ad, playing on Saudi women's newly gained freedom to drive.
(5) The Equifax massive data breach: After exposing to digital thieves the personal data of nearly half of all Americans due to neglect, the CEO of Equifax, Richard Smith, retires and will get $90 million in payments. If history is any indication, he will not do jail time for what is certainly criminal conduct.
(6) College soccer: Tonight, UCSB men's team played at home against UC Riverside. Riverside scored in the 13th minute and UCSB in the 38th minute, for a 1-1 tie at halftime. In the second half, UCSB scored in the 54th and 86th minutes to win the game 3-1. Having scored 8 goals in the last two games (they got rather unlucky tonight, or they would have had 2 more goals), UCSB's offense seems to have found its touch, just in time for the harder part of the conference schedule. At halftime, kids' soccer teams participated in a banner parade.

2017/09/29 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Skull of a Roman soldier who died during the Gallic Wars, first century BC American soldiers show off their personalized Easter eggs, 1945 Liberated Jewish prisoner holds one of the German guards at gunpoint (1) History in pictures: [Left] Skull of a Roman soldier who died during the Gallic Wars, first century BC. [Center] American soldiers show off their personalized Easter eggs, 1945. [Right] Liberated Jewish prisoner holds one of the German guards at gunpoint.
(2) The GOP tax plan would hit California hard: The federal deduction for state and local taxes, to be eliminated, allowed California residents to reduce their taxable income by a total of $101 billion in 2014. The proposed restrictions on mortgage interest deduction would also hit Californians harder than residents of other states. California is being punished, it seems, by making it the single biggest loser state in a reckless tax scheme. [From: Los Angeles Times]
(3) Shadow theater performance in Los Angeles: A team of talented Artists from New York will present performances of "Feathers of Fire: A Persian Epic" at Bram Goldsmith Theater, October 20-29, 2017.
(4) Brief news items, entertaining clips, and head-scratching thoughts from around the Internet:
- If someone who believes in reincarnation dies, should the gravestone inscription include BRB instead of RIP?
- Simplified but useful view of which jobs will be obliterated and which will survive in our AI-driven future.
- The disastrous system that turned genius in four years! [Two Trump tweets]
- Cutting corporate taxes does not spur job growth: Here is why.
- Talented group of horn players: Street musicians perform a medley of several songs. [6-minute video]
(5) Iran may have faked a missile test to goad Trump: After the Iranian media re-broadcast a failed missile test footage from January 2017, pretending it was a new test, Trump tweeted that Iran is cooperating with North Korea and could reach Israel with this missile. [Source: Maziar Bahari, writing in the Iranwire Newsletter]
(6) Brain-inspired computing: UCLA researchers are constructing a brain-inspired device composed of highly interconnected silver nanowires. The mesh device, which self-configures out of random chemical and electrical processes and executes simple learning and logic operations, contains 1 billion artificial synapses per square centimeter. It enables users to select or mix outputs in a such way as to produce the result for a desired function of the inputs. [Source: Quanta magazine]
(7) Fake "Black Lives Matter" ads were directed at selected groups on Facebook: Russia also bought a wide array of other ads, including the ones shown in these images, using the name of a fictitious organization with no trace in the US. In fact, investigators have linked "Secure Borders" to Russia. Now, these ads do not implicate Trump directly, but each of the ads was precisely targeted to demographic groups in Pennsylvania and other states. It is highly unlikely that a Russian hacker, sitting in Moscow, would have the knowledge about which group of Americans would be most receptive to a given ad. Kushner was Trump campaign's digital media manager and, with help from a data analytics company owned by Steve Bannon, used similar targeting of Trump's own ads. It would be very surprising to me if Kushner's and Bannon's fingerprints aren't found all over Russia's targeted-ad campaign. This sheds some light on Bannon characterizing Trump's firing of James Comey as the biggest political mistake in modern times.
(8) Maryland sues EPA over power-plant pollution from other states: It contends that EPA failed to act on the Clean Air Act's good-neighbor provision, when it allowed pollution from upwind states (Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia) to nullify Maryland's progress in improving its air quality.
(9) Cartoon of the day: Declaration of full equality between men and women would be my preference, but in its absence, small victories in the domain of women's rights should be cherished. Last September, the mullahs in Iran were issuing edicts about bicycling ban for women. Needless to say, Iranian women took to the streets on bikes and, a year later, the mullahs seem to have retreated. [Image: From FB's "My Stealthy Freedom" page]

2017/09/28 (Thursday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Behrooz Parhami's PQRS Computer Architecture Lab at UCSB (1) Classes began at UCSB today: With the 2017-2018 academic year rolling out, various departmental and campus Web pages are being reviewed to ensure that they provide up-to-date information. Here is my latest lab/research spotlight on the ECE Web site.
[CE Research at UCSB] [Lab Spotlights]
(2) Voter fraud? Newsweek and Wired have confirmed, via access to public records, that White House aide Jared Kushner is registered to vote in both New York and New Jersey, with his gender listed as "Female" in NY and as "Unknown" in NJ.
(3) College soccer: This evening, the UCSB men's team played at home against Cal State Fullerton. Having gone winless in their first 6 games, the Gauchos won the next 3, to come into this first conference game with a 3-4-2 record (or 2-4-2, if the exhibition match against Club America U-20 is not counted). The student section of the stadium was filled to capacity for the first time this season. Fullerton scored first, with UCSB tying the game 1-1 just before halftime. In the second half, after ceding a second goal, UCSB recovered to score 4 goals in rapid succession to win 5-2, in its best game of the season.
On my way to Harder Stadium, I captured this view of the sunset on campus.
(4) While you were distracted by the NFL "kneeling" affair, a lot happened on the sidelines:
- The humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico worsened, with lives being lost or seriously threatened
- Tom Price's scandal regarding excessive use of private jets for business/personal travel worsened
- Republicans unveiled a $5 trillion tax cut plan, which includes a deep cut in the corporate tax rate
- The IRS agreed to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his Russia-ties investigation
- Bill O'Reilly told Fox news' Sean Hannity, "They don't want white people, generally, calling the shots"
(5) Sexual exploiter dead at 91: Everyone is writing about Hugh Hefner's passing. I resisted the urge to compose a blog entry about him, but I feel like I have to say something in the face of all who are making him look like a cultural icon or, even worse, a hero. In my student days, many men pretended that they read Playboy for its articles and interviews. Yes, it did have some good material, but the pretense was laughable. Others defended Hefner and his establishment by stating that they gave women a chance to make inroads into show business and successful careers as performers. They further stated that no one forced the women to pose nude or work at the Playboy Mansion. This is true in the same sense that no one forces women and children to work in sweatshops of Third-World countries. They have a choice between working as slave laborers (which would allow them to eat) and not working (which would mean starvation). Some choice!
(6) SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind lecture: Organizers of the SAGE Center lecture series didn't waste any time by scheduling the first lecture of the new academic year on this first day of classes. The lecture room was packed, with about 20 people standing along the walls.
The lecture topic was neuroeconomics or, more precisely, "How Neuroscience Can Inform Economics." Economics tries to explain consequential human choices and discover what variables change those choices. According to Wikipedia, neuroeconomics studies how economic behavior can shape our understanding of the brain, and how neuroscientific discoveries can constrain and guide economic models.
The speaker, Professor Colin F. Camerer of Caltech, has a long list of achievements and honors, including receiving a MacArthur Genius Award. An unexpected tidbit about him is that he owns his own record label (he lives in the Los Angeles area after all)!
While economics tends to explain human behavior by means of equations and optimizing value functions, neuroeconomics also pays attention to context, values, emotions and the like. An interesting example is provided by the assessment of future rewards. Economics typically models the present worth of a future reward by postulating a constant discount factor d per unit of time, so that the worth after t time units is discounted by d^t. Neuroeconomics, on the other hand, may take many other factors beyond the reward's degree of immediacy into account.
Just another point of learning, and something to follow up on. Coursera has a free on-line course, "Neuroeconomics: How the Brain Makes Decisions" which I may pursue.
Here is a list of other scheduled lectures by the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind, all held in UCSB's Psychology Building, Room 1312, Thursdays at 4:00 PM. Given the gaps, there is a chance that other lectures will be added to the series.
11/16: John Ioannidis (Stanford), "Towards More Reproducible and Unbiased Research"
12/07: Helen Fisher (Indiana), "Addicted to Love: The Drive to Love, Who We Choose, and the Neural Foundations of Romantic Happiness and Love Addictions"
01/11: Nicholas Carr (tech writer), "Mind-Altering Devices: How Smartphones Shape Our Thoughts"
02/22: Albert-Laszlo Barabasi (Northeastern), "Taming Complexity: From Network Science to Network Control"
06/07: Ned Block (NYU), "A Joint in Nature between Perception and Cognition without Modularity of Mind"

2017/09/27 (Wednesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Secret kiss Paso Los Libertadores, a winding road in Chile North Dakota under 40 feet of snow, 1966 (1) Our world in pictures: [Left] Secret kiss. [Center] Paso Los Libertadores, a winding road section in Chile. [Right] North Dakota under 40 feet of snow, 1966.
(2) Changes in Twitter's terms of use: In response to many inquiries about why Trump's account is still active, despite violating Twitter's policy against bullying and threats of violence (example tweet), Twitter will update its terms of use and will make them more transparent. The main change is an exception to the prohibitions above for tweets that are deemed newsworthy. So, if you want to spread lies, bully people, and publicly threaten violence, you should first become an important person whose tweets are newsworthy!
[P.S.: Also, some users are being allowed tweets of double the length, 280 characters, on an experimental basis, to see if a systemwide change would be desirable. Trump isn't in this group. Someone quipped: "What would he do with longer tweets anyway?"]
(3) People have not died for the American flag but for the ideals it represents, including freedom of speech.
(4) Trump has deleted certain tweets that reflect badly on him: This has raised the question of whether deleting tweets and other social media postings violates the Presidential Records Act of 1978, which defines and states public ownership of the records and postulates that disposal of any record be done after consultation with the Archivist of the US.
(5) Some good news for education: Trump instructs the Department of Education to commit $200 million in grants for STEM programs, and tech giants, such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, pledge an additional $300 million.
(6) Giant 10-MB hard disk anyone? And it will cost you less than a new car! I don't have a date for this ad, but guess it to be from the late 1970s or early 1980s. My guess is based on the mention of "inquiry card" at the bottom of the page. In those days, technical magazines came with a card, bearing a number for each ad. If you needed info about a product, you would circle its ad number on the card, mail it in, and wait for 2-3 weeks to get some brochures in the mail.
(7) Slavery is alive and thriving in the US: The latest example comes from NCAA basketball players, mostly black and poor, having replaced plantation workers and coaches acting as slave masters. College sports is supposed to promote athletic excellence alongside academic progress for student-athletes, who are not paid for their participation. Let's put aside, for a minute, the fact that athletic scholarships and some perks provided by schools to athletes violate this spirit. My focus here is on coaches, who, besides drawing obnoxious salaries (they earn more than virtually all professors), have now been caught receiving bribes from athletic agents, and companies seeking product endorsers, to steer the most talented athletes their way. In some cases, the coaches in turn have bribed families of athletes to enlist their help in placing athletes with their clients. A small number of such athletes end up signing lucrative contracts to play professionally, so their pro-bono participation can be viewed as investment in their future. The bulk of players, however, get nothing in return. Any fitness benefits are far outweighed by major injuries resulting from being pushed to the limit on the court. Other money-making college sports, such as football, have similar problems, whereas less lucrative fields, such as soccer, tennis, and water-polo, are truer to the spirit of college sports.

2017/09/26 (Tuesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
The Rat Pack in Las Vegas, 1960 Cleveland's Balloon Fest, 1986, when over 1.5M balloons were released simultaneously London of the 1930s, in a rare colorized photo (1) History in pictures: [Left] The Rat Pack in Las Vegas, 1960. [Center] Cleveland's Balloon Fest, 1986, when over 1.5M balloons were released simultaneously. [Right] London of the 1930s, in a rare colorized photo.
(2) The villain in the Republican repeal-and-replace horror movie is down again, but assume that it's dead at your own peril!
(3) Four years ago, Donald Trump was against the President telling an NFL team what to do, because "our country has far bigger problems!"
DJT's tweet of October 8, 2013: "President should not be telling the Washington Redskins to change their name-our country has far bigger problems! FOCUS on them,not nonsense"
(4) Eight brief news headlines of the day:
- Multiple Trump aides used private e-mail accounts for official communications
- In tweets, Trump blames Puerto Rico's excessive debt for its post-storm devastation
- San Juan mayor to Trump: PR's debt crisis and disaster relief are separate issues
- WH Chief of Staff John Kelly displeased with Trump's culture war against NFL
- NASA's Katherine G. Johnson computational research facility opens in honor of the "Hidden Figures" leader.
- More than 100,000 foreign nationals are under surveillance in the US, says NSA
- Bali's Mount Agung volcano can erupt at any time; more than 75,000 evacuated
- Trump-supported Senate candidate is soundly defeated in Alabama's Republican primary race.
(5) A few observations and tweets of the day:
- Puerto Rico needs help: Federal aid is not getting there fast enough. Private citizens should mobilize.
- Lopsided victory: NFL triumphs over Puerto Rico in the total number of Trump tweets 24-4.
- Somehow, I can't get very excited about Saudi Arabian women's newly earned permission to drive!
- Any normal, decent human being would have apologized for calling Americans who disagree with him SOBs.
(6) UCSB College of Engineering welcomes its new students: In today's noon event dubbed "Discover Engineering" and held on the Chemistry Lawn, our new students were greeted by faculty, staff, and their peers who run various professional organizations and technical-interest clubs on campus. And, of course, serving pizza is essential for ensuring good attendance!
(7) This afternoon in downtown Santa Barbara: I have posted about Santa Barbara's wonderful architecture previously, but my focus was on churches, museums, historical theaters, and the like, that are expected to be architecturally impressive. During today's walk on State Street, from Mission Street to the waterfront, and back, I concentrated on photographing run-of-the-mill businesses, such as banks, restaurants, and retail stores, including the just-completed Californian Hotel and its adjacent plaza. [Photos] The exterior gates of this locked-up business reminded me of the von Trapp family's hiding place near the end of "The Sound of Music." I also took a few photos of Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf and an art installation in a downtown open space.

2017/09/25 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Hajj pilgrimage goes better with Coca Cola, 1953. Hair ironing ritual in the 1960s Result of two bullets colliding in the air, when a Frenchman and a Russian fired at one another in the Crimean war, about 160 years ago (1) History in pictures: [Left] Hajj pilgrimage goes better with Coca Cola, 1953. [Center] Hair ironing ritual in the 1960. [Right] Result of two bullets colliding in the air, when a Frenchman and a Russian fired at one another in the Crimean war, about 160 years ago.
(2) Cyprus is building a spaceship-shaped observatory: The idea is to make it more fun for people to visit. To be completed in 2019, the Troodos Observatory will have a public roof terrace, varied programs, and collaborations with NASA and other scientific entities around the world. [Image]
(3) Selfies at historical sites in 31 Iranian provinces: The maker of this 1-minute video compilation traveled 17,000 km on bus and 1000 km on foot.
(4) A wonderful photo pose re-creation by a couple married since 1947.
(5) Modern Persian poetry: "Window," by Forough Farrokhzad.
(6) Persian poetry: By Mohammad-Reza Shafiei Kadkani. [Persian; my English translation follows]
I can neither join you, nor get away from you | Neither free myself from your snare, nor sit by your side
Oh, the one whose glance is my shelter! Know that it's a sin | To shut your window to a bird fleeing the storm
(7) This Tavaana story (in Persian) reviews how Trump's new multi-country travel ban affects Iranians: Each of the countries included in the ban, to become effective on October 18, 2017, will have different sets of restrictions. For Iranians, only student visas, issued after extreme vetting, will be allowed. Issuance of all other visa types will be permanently suspended. The reason for this action is cited as the Iranian government's lack of cooperation in identity verification and intelligence exchange.
(8) History's best overlooked inventions: In Tim Harford's new book, Fifty Inventions that Shaped the Modern Economy, we see the expected inventions that everyone knows about and appreciates. However, we also see some of the less-appreciated inventions that have had great impacts on the world's economy, without being prominent. Examples include barbed wire, which significantly cut the cost of protecting priave property on the American prairie, replaceable razor blades, and Ikea's Billy bookcase. As explained by the author, Billy "is a symbol of how innovation in the modern economy isn't just about snazzy new technologies, but also boringly efficient system." [Info from Time magazine, issue of September 18, 2017]
(9) Distinguished scientist/engineer featured in ACM Bulletin: Bill Dally, Professor at Stanford University and Senior VP of Research at NVIDIA, has been at the forefront of computer-architecture and interconnection-network research for decades. In a 2011 talk, he predicted that reaching exascale computing would require significant breakthroughs in power efficiency, programmability (viz., ease of programming and program portability), and execution granularity. In a new interview, Dally offers updates on how far we have come in these three areas since 2011 and what we need to cover by the end of the decade. Progress in energy efficiency has been most impressive, amounting to a factor of 10+ over the past 6 years. NVIDIA's new Tesla GPU achieves a computational throughput of 25 gigaflops per watt (this translates to an exaflops machine using only 40 kW for its computing nodes; memory and communication have to be accounted for separately). Programmability is the most problematic of the three areas, as porting a parallel application from one machine to another requires substantial effort at present. We still lack machine-independent languages, along with fully automated mapping to specific target machines.

2017/09/24 (Sunday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Rare vintage photo of an onna-bugeisha, a female warrior of the upper social classes in feudal Japan The two Michaels palying basketball in 1992 Little girl being rescued by a soldier from her London home after a series of bombings, 1944 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Rare vintage photo of an onna-bugeisha, a female warrior of the upper social classes in feudal Japan. [Center] The two Michaels palying basketball in 1992. [Right] Little girl being rescued by a soldier from her London home after a series of bombings, 1944.
(2) Trump has picked the wrong fight: Not only does his criticism of NFL and NBA athletes come at an inopportune time, in terms of distracting attention from the North Korean crisis and his legislative agenda (health care and tax reform), it puts him in direct conflict with two hugely popular leagues dominated by black athletes, reinforcing his image as racist. Early indications are that his attack is backfiring. Trying to backtrack a bit, Trump tweeted today that "... standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable ... ," ignoring the fact that the standing pose is to support freedom of speech for those who protest by kneeling or otherwise. My son, who no longer watched football games on TV, is watching today to show his distaste for what Trump is doing. Where are the WH "advisers" to tell Trump that it's morally wrong and politically stupid to attack black athletes more than Russia as threats to American values?
(3) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other stories from the Internet:
- Germany's Angela Merkel wins a fourth term, but exit polls show increased support for the far right.
- With her re-election, Merkel has cemented her role as the West's political and moral leader.
- Syrian-American anti-Assad journalist and her mother murdered in Turkey.
- Tehran traffic on the first day of school. [Photo]
- Aerial view of a scenic road in Japan, mistakenly attributed to being from the Tehran-Chaloos road in Iran.
- Move-in weekend is in progress at UCSB, with fall-quarter classes for 2017-2018 set to start on 9/28.
(4) Planned Parenthood fundraising book sale: The sale, wonderfully organized and featuring 70,000 volumes, was held over the weekend at Santa Barbara's Earl Warren Showgrounds. Today's prices were 50% off from the already very low markings. I bought four books for $2.50 total, and my daughter bought a larger batch (I had better self-control, I guess).
Map of Kurdish regions in the Middle East (5) The Kurdish problem is front and center again: The Kurds, which reportedly constitute 20% of the population in Iraq, 9 % in Syria, 25% in Turkey, and 10% in Iran, have suffered injustice and bias for decades.
Among them, Iraqi Kurds have achieved better outcomes, having gained autonomy even under Saddam Hussein. For them, independence (subject of tomorrow's referendum) is a matter of formality, as they already have all the benefits of autonomy (including an independent army). Whether Iraqi Kurds' bid for independence is just a political ploy to get even more concessions from Iraq's central government or constitutes a serious step to establish an independent country, a positive outcome for the referendum will no doubt lead to additional instability in the Middle East. Not surprisingly, all four countries in which Kurds reside are against the independence movement. The US has warned the Kurds that their actions will distract from the fight against Islamic State and lead to further instability in the region.
Syrian Kurds are the quietest and most oppressed among the Kurdish populations. As far as I know, they have not made any political demands.
Iranian Kurds have been better integrated into the country and they do proudly declare themselves Iranians. But it does not help that the central Iranian government, both under the Shah and under the Islamic regime, has systematically oppressed and, at times, brutally attacked the Kurds and their leaders. Practically speaking, Iranian Kurds have not been given any significant role in running the country.
Despite their larger fraction of the population, the Kurds of Turkey appear to be in the worst shape among their brethren, having been oppressed by their government for many years, under the guise of fighting terrorism.
Even though some Kurds in other countries are supportive of the Iraqi Kurds' independence plight, the disparate Kurdish groups are far from united. Should Iraqi Kurds attain independence, the fate of these other Kurdish groups is unclear.

2017/09/23 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
The final evening of NYC's Twin Towers, September 10, 2001 In the 19th century, firefighters looked like Darth Vader and C3PO Ad for Philip Morris cigarettes, 1952 (1) History in pictures: [Left] The final evening of NYC's Twin Towers, September 10, 2001. [Center] In the 19th century, firefighters looked like Darth Vader and C3PO! [Right] Ad for Philip Morris cigarettes, 1952.
(2) The petty president rages on in a tweet: "Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!" [Please stop tweeting long enough to reflect on what makes the WH no longer honorable?]
(3) Tweet of the day: HBO CEO Richard Plepler on the culture behind hits like "Game of Thrones," "Big Little Lies," and "Insecure."
(4) News from social media: Two-thirds of adult Americans, and more than three-quarters of those under the age of 50, get some of their news from social media. Here is the share of various platforms in supplying the news: Facebook (45%); YouTube (18%); Twitter (11%); Instagram (7%); Snapchat (5%). [Source: Time magazine, issue of September 25, 2017]
(5) Mexico in the news: A 6.1-magnitude aftershock rocked the country today. Meanwhile, an advisory has been issued after meth-laced bottles of 7-Up killed one person and sickened several in Mexicali.
(6) Athletes' silent protest in Seattle: Only Trump can take a harmless gesture of protest and turn it into a national issue that divides Americans. You would think athletes are greater enemies of our country than Russia!
(7) "9 to 5" stars (Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda) "still refuse to be controlled by a sexist, lying, egotistical bigot." [From their presentation intro at the Emmy Awards ceremony]
(8) US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a self-proclaimed feminist, is preparing for the fights of her life, come the new SCOTUS term beginning in October.
(9) Goleta Sanitary District's plant tour: We tend to take for granted so much of what goes on behind the scenes in our modern society. We open the tap, and water flows out. We flush the toilet, and wastewater disappears, along with other stuff in the bowl. So, I took advantage of an open-house and walking tour to go see the huge campus of Goleta Sanitary District, right across from the airport. The signs I photographed tell part of the story of what they do. The reference to "Jurassic" arises from the fact that the water we use today has existed on earth since the days of the dinosaurs. If you look carefully, you can see parked planes in one photo and a small plane landing in another.

2017/09/22 (Friday): Here are six items of potential interest.
The original 1924 Hollywoodland sign was advertising for a housing development California redwood loggers, early 20th century New York City's Central Park, 1933. (1) History in pictures: [Left] The original 1924 Hollywoodland sign was advertising for a housing development; the last four letters were removed in 1949 to give us the iconic "Hollywood" sign. [Center] California redwood loggers, early 20th century. [Right] New York City's Central Park, 1933.
(2) Bike racks are so passe: Especially in cities where bicycles are heavily used. Uterecht in the Netherlands now has a bike parking garage with spaces for 12,500 bikes. More than 125,000 bikers pass through the city center daily. The new garage will have digital signs for directing bikers to available spots and will offer 24-hour free bike parking.
(3) Comedian Jimmy Kimmel has come under fire for discussing healthcare as a non-expert: It's not like they are listening to experts, such as dozens of groups having medical doctors and other healthcare specialists as members. Also, can our President say a few more words about the plan, other than "It's a great bill, vote for it"? His focus seems to be "repeal," with "replace" thrown in just to pretend that affordable health insurance isn't being taken away from millions!
(4) Eight brief news headlines and other stories from the Internet:
- Facebook will hand over the ads it sold to Russian-linked accounts for the Russia meddling investigation.
- Mexico City moves from shock to action: Citizen groups assist in rescue efforts and distribute supplies.
- My farewell dinner with visiting scholar Dr. Chenggui Zhao, who is about to return home to China.
- The world's richest woman, L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, dies at 94.
- Cartoon of the day: Chains of hijab. [Image]
- Puerto Rico may remain sans power for 6 months: Maria wiped out an already feeble electrical infrastructure.
- A large dam in Puerto Rico has cracked, forcing people to flee and the government to order mass evacuations.
- Hope fades in Mexico: Survivors are still being pulled out from buildings, but rescues are becoming less likely.
(5) Seven of my brief Facebook and Twitter posts about current politicical developments:
- What do the US and Syria have in common? A: They're the only countries rejecting the Paris Climate Deal. [Nicaragua just signed.]
- The frightening thing is that Trump may be tempted to escalate the conflict with North Korea, because it would rally Americans to his side.
- Trump tweet: Rand Paul, or whoever votes against Hcare Bill, will forever (future political campaigns) be known as 'the Republican who saved ObamaCare.' Me: Hush! Don't give other Republicans ideas!
- Doctors: First, do no harm. Republicans: First, do more harm.
- Remember the good-old days when our leaders just forgot names of countries? Now, they can't even read the names from prepared text!
- Why would any country, including NK, negotiate with the US when it sees the previously-negotiated Iran deal unilaterally dissed.
- Trump has neither acknowledged intelligence failures that led to Russia meddling in our 2016 election, nor has he taken any steps to fix them.
(6) As the storms get stronger, so do we: A powerful storm like Irma would have done much more damage before we learned how to prepare for and recover from hurricanes. [Time magazine cover image]

2017/09/21 (Thursday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Claude Monet in his garden at Giverny, 1905 Burbank High School parking lot, 1966 Finding a place to be alone on crowded Santa Monica beach, 1950 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Claude Monet in his garden at Giverny, 1905. [Center] Burbank High School parking lot, 1966. [Right] Finding a place to be alone on crowded Santa Monica beach, 1950.
(2) Happy International Peace Day! Even though there isn't much to celebrate right now, let's use this occasion to remind ourselves that peace begins with us. It gains life from each of us being peaceful inside and committing to peaceful interactions with others. [International Peace Day logo]
(3) Myanmar's dire situation: I have now seen several statements by, and interviews with, the country's Nobel-Laureate leader, Aung San Suu Kyl, about ethnic cleansing in her country. She has not yet acknowledged the killings by Buddhists and, in one statement, expressed puzzlement over the reasons for Rohingya Muslims fleeing into neighboring countries. Really? She does not read the news? Or does she think, like another world leader, that the news reports are fake?
(4) Silicon Valley's culture of sexual misconduct showcased on NYT's front page: A lawsuit brought by Elizabeth Scott (digital media manager) against virtual-reality tech startup Upload has been settled for an undisclosed sum. Rather than the company's management getting in trouble for supporting a lurid culture, which has changed little since the settlement, Ms. Scott was fired and became virtually (no pun intended!) unemployable, once potential employers learned that she had filed a lawsuit. She has since secured employment, though. Twelve other employees quit in solidarity with Ms. Scott, but they have all remained quiet about Ms. Scott and their own reasons for resigning.
(5) Healthcare debate reduced to trivialities: Which medical conditions will be covered? How are the premiums determined or adjusted from year to year? How are affordability and accessibility ensured? These concerns are missing from debates of the new Republican replacement for Obamacare. And defenders of the new bill, including its two sponsors, refuse to answer direct questions about the details. Discussion is centered around how it will be administered financially (through block grant to states), as if the administrative scheme is important to those worried about losing their health insurance or being priced out of the market. And thinking only about money is not limited to healthcare proposals. It pervades the current administration, beginning at the very top. At the UN General Assembly, Trump paid a "compliment" to African leaders by telling them that many of his friends go to Africa to make a lot of money. He did not say that his friends go to Africa to help, or to create solutions, or to educate. No, none of these. They go there to convert the continent's resources into wealth for themselves! The new healthcare plan too takes resources from the less fortunate and converts them to wealth, in the form of tax cuts, for the rich.
(6) This is why the Republicans are hell-bent on repealing Obamacare: Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley explains their very principled (not!) approach. "You know, I could maybe give you 10 reasons why this bill shouldn't be considered. But Republicans campaigned on this so often that you have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign. That's pretty much as much of a reason as the substance of the bill."
(7) Films for us senior citizens: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton have agreed to appear in the next "Terminator" movie. It is rumored that the cyborg portrayed by Arnold will appear with a walker! This photo depicts an imagined scene from the fourth "Titanic" sequel.

2017/09/20 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Jewish refugees, as they become aware of their liberation by a group of allied soldiers, 1945 Rejected designs for the Eiffel Tower Priest holding a dying soldier, as bullets fly around them, Venezuela, 1962 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Jewish refugees, as they become aware of their liberation by a group of allied soldiers, 1945. [Center] Rejected designs for the Eiffel Tower. [Right] Priest holding a dying soldier, as bullets fly around them, Venezuela, 1962.
(2) Happy Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, to all who observe it! The new Hebrew calendar year 5778 will start tomorrow and, like all Jewish holidays, its arrival is celebrated beginning with the night before.
(3) Here is a link to Direct Relief International's donations page: The page has a drop-down menu from which you can select "Mexico Earthquakes," "Hurricane Maria," or some of the earlier natural disasters, as well as their ongoing aid programs. The donation process, using a credit card or PayPal, is very quick and painless. DRI is an effective charity, which has been given 100% scores by Charity Navigator on both financial indicators and accountability/transparency.
(4) Interesting series of photographs, showing reactions of UN delegates to Trump's speech: Guess which is the only group shown smiling? (No, it's not the US delegation, all of whose members seem to be in pain!)
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other stories from the Internet:
- Puerto Rico is devastated by Hurricane Maria: It is 100% without power. [Brief video of flooding]
- Mexico City quake's death toll keeps rising; many collapsed buildings remain to be searched.
- The evolution of Dubai over two decades (three photos, covering 1991-2012).
- Thunderstorm over the Golden Gate Bridge: Time-lapse photography covering 3 hours. [1-minute video]
- Quote of the day: "So many of my friends are going to Africa to get rich." ~ Donald Trump to African leaders
- Geographical goof: At a lunch with African leaders, Trump referred to the non-existent country of "Nambia"!
(6) Caving in Parau, Kermanshah, Iran: This 19-minute documentary is about an Italian team's expedition, along with Iranian climbers, to an amazing 562-meter vertical cave. [Screenshots from the film]
(7) Emmanuel Macron's interview with "fake news" CNN: "Loser" French President criticizes our Dear Leader, citing North Korea as an example of why ditching the Iran nuclear deal is a bad idea. He also says that the Paris climate pact isn't up for renegotiation.
(8) Helping out, by translating Trump-speak for non-narcissists: "I have decided how to proceed with the Iran nuclear deal, but won't discuss that decision now" = I have no freaking idea what to do; I have some gut feelings, but General Kelly will get mad at me if I discuss those in public.
(9) Data centers held up well during the recent hurricanes: Some cell towers were disabled, thus cutting access to local customers, but the data centers themselves continued humming with no disruptions, thanks to built-in emergency power sources. In fact, some data centers served as headquarters for US marshals in their emergency response mode. One criterion observed in building data centers is that they be located above 500-year floodplain. [Adapted from: NYT]

2017/09/19 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
US soldier (Vietnam, 1968) keeps photos of his girlfriend with him at all times Mahatma Gandhi as a young lawyer, India, 1893 Former Australian prisoners of war, after they are freed from Japanese captivity in Singapore, 1945 (1) History in pictures: [Left] US soldier (Vietnam, 1968) keeps photos of his girlfriend with him at all times. [Center] Mahatma Gandhi as a young lawyer, India, 1893. [Right] Former Australian prisoners of war, after they are freed from Japanese captivity in Singapore, 1945.
(2) Trump will fall shortly after Jared Kushner resigns, owing to his role (along with a company owned by Steve Bannon) in enabling Russia's targeted Facebook ads.
(3) American healthcare exceptionalism: A popular myth perpetuated about the US healthcare system is that it is the best in the world and the envy of other nations. Not even close! [Image]
(4) The paradox of Iranian-Americanness: I don't fully endorse this letter to Chronicle of Higher Education, but it does present some food for thought. Equating Iranianness and Aryanness smacks of racism and plays into white-supremacist narratives. How do the Iranian-Americans promoting Aryan purity reconcile their views with the brutal fact that we are essentially colored people in this country? As far as our rights or lack thereof are concerned, we are in the same boat as blacks and Hispanics.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other stories from the Internet:
- For someone often dissing the UN, deeming it impotent and inefficient, DJT seems to be enjoying the UNGA!
- Dance montage to brighten your Tuesday! [Video]
- A new magnitude-7.1 quake rocks central Mexico, killing at least 140.
- A new shopping mall in Tehran, Iran: Notice all the foreign store names! [10-minute video]
- Another iconic American business bites the dust: Toys 'R' Us files for bankruptcy protection.
- Equifax hid its massive data breach affecting 40% of Americans, for almost 5 months, before disclosing it.
(6) An embarrassment of a speech: Trump's UN General Assembly speech, full of childish anger and alternative facts, enrages world's diplomats. Later today, watch his clean-up crew put lipstick on the pig by trying to explain the inexplicable! The looks on the faces of Rex Tillerson and Nikki Haley tell it all, as Trump threatens to totally destroy North Korea and repeats his "Rocket Man" insult in front of the entire world.
(7) Hurricane Maria has strengthened to category 5 and is headed for a direct hit to Puerto Rico: Residents have been instructed to evacuate or face possible death. This storm of the century looks devastating. Our thoughts are with the residents and visitors of the island and others nearby who are at risk.
(8) I'm done with not being believed: This is the title of a NYT opinion piece by Amber Tamblyn (about sexual harassment in the entertainment industry), which is gaining a lot of attention and support.
(9) Students are trickling in to UCSB for fall 2017: A bike and a mattress are among the essentials they need early on, so Goleta businesses are catering to these needs. [Photo]

2017/09/18 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
In the 1950s, Vanity Fair cigarettes came in fashionable pastel pink or pastel blue A northern Iraqi women's accessory from the 14th century, which may be the earliest surviving handbag in the world Little boy examining a super-size cabbage, Alaska, 1959 (1) History in pictures: [Left] In the 1950s, Vanity Fair cigarettes came in fashionable pastel pink or pastel blue! [Center] A northern Iraqi women's accessory from the 14th century, which may be the earliest surviving handbag in the world. [Right] Little boy examining a super-size cabbage, Alaska, 1959.
(2) Baha'i leader Mahvash Sabet Shahriari has been released from Tehran's Evin Prison, having served her full 10-year jail term. That she can still smile so broadly is a testament to her iron will and unbreakable spirit. Welcome back! [Or, in the words of Nasrin Sotoudeh, happy relocation from the little prison to the big prison!]
(3) Funny how Trump supporters insist that the election is over and that we should move on! I wonder how they explain Trump's frequent tweets about Obama and Clinton?
(4) Sean Spicer's surprise appearance at last night's Emmy Awards ceremony: His brief entry with a rolling podium (a la Melissa McCarthy), to make fun of his statements about inauguration crowd size, may be a signal that he wants to get out from under Trump's shadow. Many who watched his appearance did not consider it funny at all. What's funny about telling lie after lie to the American people, and then pretending that it was all a big joke? What happened to accountability? I, for one, hope that he will write a tell-all book, but do not consider such an expose as adequate for erasing all of his sins.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other stories from the Internet:
- African-American cop protecting a KKK member during a recent protest in Houston. [Photo]
- Graphic designer, appalled with girls' magazine covers, redesigns one to show what it should look like.
- Hurricane Maria expected to become category 5, as it passes the already devastated Caribbean islands.
- Governor Jerry Brown stands up to Donald Trump's climate-change denial at a UN round-table.
- Governor Jerry Brown's popularity is soaring, in part because of Trump presidency.
- New research shows that stifling a yawn might make it worse! [Source: Time magazine]
(6) Quote of the day: "Your neighbor is still your neighbor regardless of what has happened." ~ Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenyan President, calling for calm, after the country's Supreme Court declared his re-election invalid [Compare this statement from a Third-World-country leader with what might transpire in our country under similar circumstances.]
(7) Trump has cut the advertising budget for Obamacare as part of his plan to sabotage the program. Please share this info about the shorter 2017 open enrollment period, November 1st to December 15th.
(8) Adjective order in English: I hope no one tries to use all the adjective kinds together! [Rules]
(9) And now for something truly unusual: "Black Lives Matter" activists were given 2 minutes on stage at a pro-Trump rally to express themselves, and they used the time wisely. A definite step in the right direction!

2017/09/17 (Sunday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Louis Armstrong and his wife Lucille, Rome, 1949 Golden Gate Bridge opening day, 1937 Mini-skirted girls turning heads in Cape Town, South Africa, 1965 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Louis Armstrong and his wife Lucille, Rome, 1949. [Center] Golden Gate Bridge opening day, 1937. [Right] Mini-skirted girls turning heads in Cape Town, South Africa, 1965.
(2) Iran beats France 3-2 in FIVB volleyball: In the exciting first match, Iran came from behind to win 38-36. Iran emerges from the competition with its first-ever medal, a bronze.
(3) Islands devastated by Hurricane Irma may be hit again: If the developing storm does materialize, it will be called Maria (Lee is trailing Maria in the Pacific). Following Irma's ire, Jose is going north off the US East Coast and can still generate dangerous surf. Katia affected Mexico only.
(4) The horror movie playing out in US Congress: Near the end of many a horror movie, the villain appears dead, only to rise and attack again. And this sequence may happen more than once. Well, the Republican-health-care-plan villain, previously thought dead, is up and about. And this time, the villain may have the votes, according to Senator Elizabeth Warren. Stay vigilant and help put it down once and for all!
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other stories from the Internet:
- Very Presidential: Trump retweets a GIF of him hitting Hillary Clinton with a golf ball.
- Meet potential Senator Kid Rock, as he kicks off his bid for a US Senate seat: Where is this country headed?
- Four American women visiting France are attacked with acid in Marseille.
- Trump's Law: For every new Trump tweet, there is an equal and opposite previous tweet.
- Fake-news methods of the 2016 US elections are being applied in Germany and the rest of Europe. [Image]
- Cartoon of the day: Types of bees. [By John Atkinson] [Image]
(6) Where the trolls live: Analysis of social media comments and rating them according to toxicity levels yields some interesting results. "The South is disproportionately hostile, with Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina all hovering at over nine percent of all comments being toxic. Nevada (10.1 percent) and Iowa (10.3 percent) also have a high proportion of toxic comments. The 'winner' though in the troll wars goes to Vermont. The proportion of toxic comments is higher there than in any other state at 12.2 percent. Neighboring New Hampshire, on the other hand, had the lowest at 4.7."
(7) California Lemon Festival, held in Goleta's Girsh Park: Along with all the lemon-related stuff, fully electric cars were prominently displayed. Could it be the car exhibitors did not pay attention to the connection with lemons? [Photos] There was also a stage featuring live music. I was there for parts of the acts by two bands, both trained at Santa Barbara Youth Music Academy. The first band consisted of junior high and high school students. [Video 1] [Video 2] The next performer, Brandi Rose, and her band are featured in this video.
(8) Exhibition soccer match: UCSB men's soccer team played Club America Sub-20, a Mexican youth team, at Harder Stadium today. UCSB trailed 0-1 at halftime but recovered to score in the first few minutes and again near the end of the second half to win 2-1. Halftime entertainment was provided by a mariachi band. [Video]

2017/09/16 (Saturday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Major General Horatio Gordon Robley, with his collection of Maori heads, 1895 Snowfight between Republican and Democratic page boys in front of the US Capitol building, 1923 The big three (Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin) at Yalta Conference, 1945 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Major General Horatio Gordon Robley, with his collection of Maori heads, 1895. [Center] Snowfight between Republican and Democratic page boys in front of the US Capitol building, 1923. [Right] The big three (Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin) at Yalta Conference, 1945.
(2) Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of Trump's presidency is the support he received, and continues to receive, from hoards of people who self-identify as devout Christians. [Photo]
(3) The Democratic Coalition, an anti-Trump super-PAC, has filed a complaint against the White House spokesperson for her suggestion that an ESPN employee be fired: "When Sarah Huckabee Sanders called for Jemele Hill to be fired by ESPN, she crossed the line and put herself in dubious legal territory. For Sanders to publicly call for the dismissal of a Trump critic is bizarre and disturbing, to say the least. If anyone is to be fired, it should be her."
(4) United Way's Day of Caring: After gathering at 8:00 AM with other volunteers at the Page Youth Center for signing in, breakfast, introductions, and orientation, I headed to Isla Vista Park and Recreation Department for 4 hours of trash pick-up and community clean-up. I walked along two paths, 5 miles in all, filling 6.5 five-gallon buckets with trash, mostly cigarette butts, food wrappers/boxes, and bottles. An estimated 2/3 of the trash colleted consisted of recycleable items. Here are some photos from the morning gathering, video of a dance/exercise routine to lift the volunteers' spirits, and a selfie of me with the tools for the day (bucket, trashgrabber, and map of the streets to be cleaned).
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other stories from the Internet:
- Quote of the day: "Do the women get to talk around here?" ~ Nancy Pelosi, being interrupted at WH dinner
- The original cast of "Sesame Street." [Photo]
- London terror incident triggers the usual insensitive tweet from Trump and a response from the British PM.
- Simon and Gurfunkel's "Sound of Silence" played by Jamie Dupuis on an 18-string harp-guitar.
- Oxnard, California, may soon get a third commercial high-rise building, according to KEYT news.
- Pardall Road and Embarcadero Del Norte: The busiest intersection in Isla Vista gets traffic lights.
(6) Trump's tweeting record: It has been observed that there is a Trump tweet for every occasion. An on-line, keyword-searchable compilation of all of his tweets would be very useful for finding just the tweet you need to support a particular viewpoint. Soon there will be books of his tweets, neatly organized and indexed. [Funny tweet by Eric Williams] For example, Trump's racist tweets are being dug up. [Two sample tweets]

2017/09/15 (Friday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Sketch on a glass panel in front of a ruined edifice helps with visualizing its original form School in Afghanistan: Heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time Clinton's new book is just one piece of the 2016 US election story (1) Photos. [Left] Brilliant idea for historic sites: Sketch on a glass panel in front of a ruined edifice helps with visualizing its original form. [Center] School in Afghanistan: Heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. [Right] Hillary Clinton's new book is just one piece of the 2016 US election story: Two other key pieces will come in time. One is the outcome of the Russian meddling investigation (the official report, or an insider's account). Another is a tell-all book by a Trump campaign figure motivated by financial gain or revenge. Thus far, resigned and fired aides are keeping mum, but some of them are no doubt shuffling their notes, talking to agents, and weighing their options.
(2) I don't understand. DACA was in place and working well. Trump decided to repeal it and is now trying to reach a deal to keep it. So, at the end, we have a lot of hoopla, with nothing changing, except the sense of security and peace of mind for 800,000 productive members of our society. Talk about destructive behavior!
(3) Atlantic hurricanes are getting stronger: Over the last 40 years, the percentage of hurricanes that reach categories 3-5 has at least doubled. Wind speeds go up linearly in the hurricane rating scale, but destructive power, which is proportional to the square of wind speed, goes up quadratically. Stronger hurricanes also tend to last longer after landfall, thus giving rise to another multiplicative factor (energy = power x time). And this is just direct destructive energy from the winds. Storm surge, a leading cause of destruction in the wake of hurricanes, rises by more than a factor of 2 (up to 2.4 m, vs. an average of 4.7 meters), as we go from category 2 to category 4.
(4) A prime example of where regulations are needed: The real-estate industry still builds rows and rows of Florida oceanfront homes like these, pocketing the profits and leaving taxpayers to shoulder the consequences through government-subsidized flood insurance. And we keep being told that regulations are stifling business growth. We need this kind of growth like we need more poison!
(5) College soccer: Tonight, I watched the tail end of a women's soccer match between UCSB and University of the Pacific, which ended 2-2 after two overtime periods, and a men's soccer match between the the same universities. Pacific men came to Santa Barbara with a 6-0-0 record and a national ranking of 14th. UCSB had lost 4 games in a row and had a winless overall record of 0-4-2, including two scoreless ties, having scored only 3 goals in 6 games. Tonight, UCSB played with much more energy than its previous appearances and was rewarded with a 1-0 win against a strong opponent. On Sunday 9/17, at Noon, UCSB will play Club America, a Mexican youth team.
Cover image for Kelly Carlin's 'A Carlin Home Companion' (6) Book review: Carlin, Kelly, A Carlin Home Campanion: Growing Up with George, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, Macmillan Audio, 2015.
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Kelly Carlin is a talented writer, who as the only child of comedy genius George Carlin, provides valuable insights into the late entertainer's character, career path, and family life, while relating how her own life was affected by the family's dysfunction and crazy schedule. Kelly, who does not aspire to become a stand-up comedian, does have good comedy chops, providing in her book many funny stories alongside the sad tales.
Adored by his fans, George Carlin had issues at home he would rather not reveal (or let others in the family discuss). Kelly, holder of a master's degree in psychology, has written a book that shows the human side of her father as much as his successful career in comedy, gaining a therapeutic self-understanding in the process. It is safe to say that George would not have approved of this book, were he still alive.
The audiobook contains bits and pieces of Carlin's work and the ups and downs of his career (comedy specials, TV contracts, and so on), which was shaped, to some extent, by the massive sum he owed to the IRS. His path was further complicated, as he struggled with alcohol and drug abuse, and experienced many health scares.
At times, Kelly comes across as a spoiled child who felt entitled to a special place in the world by virtue of being a celebrity's daughter. She was on her father's payroll for quite a while, including periods when she didn't do much for him professionally. Yet, she found herself having to play the adult among "The Three Musketeers," her father's nickname for the family.
As might be anticipated from the title, the book is a cross between Kelly's memoir and George's biography. Fans of George Carlin will love the book for revealing a side of the comedy whiz he himself never discussed. Others might enjoy the writing, but may not find the detailed stories compelling.

2017/09/14 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Man being fined for wearing indecent clothes on the beach, Netherlands, 1931 Margaret Hamilton, lead software engineer of the Apollo Project, stands next to the 5-foot-high printout of her hand-produced code, which was responsible for humans landing on the moon in 1969 African girl on display in (1) History in pictures: [Left] Man being fined for wearing indecent clothes on the beach, Netherlands, 1931. [Center] Margaret Hamilton, lead software engineer of NASA's Apollo Project, stands next to the 5-foot-high printout stack of her hand-produced code, which was responsible for humans landing on the moon in 1969. [Right] African girl on display in "human zoo," Belgium, 1958.
(2) UCSB earns the number-8 spot among public universities in the 2018 US News & World Report ranking. Four other UC campuses are in the top 10 (actually, top 11, due to a 3-way tie in the 9th position). UC Berkeley and UCLA are tied at first, while UC Irvine and UC San Diego share the 9th spot with University of Florida.
(3) Trump denies having reached a DACA agreement with the Democrats: The Democrats may have a strategy here. But then again they may be setting themselves up for failure or ridicule by negotiating with someone who called them losers and much worse.
(4) Quote of the day: "If 97% of engineers agree the bridge ahead is going to collapse and 3% say not to worry, would you keep driving?" ~ Message seen on a sign at a climate-change protest march
(5) Trump's nominee for the number-2 position at FEMA withdrew his application after NBC revealed that he had been investigated by the FBI and DHS for favoritism and other improprieties after Hurricane Katrina.
(6) Swiss robotics firm designs an orchestra conductor: YuMi, as the robot is called, conducted the Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra and tenor Andrea Bocelli in a concert to mark the First Int'l Festival of Robotics.
(7) Half-dozen interesting odds and ends from the Internet and other media:
- Temporary golfing rules for disruptions caused by exploding bombs at Britain's Richmond Golf Club, 1940.
- Comedian John Oliver's highly detailed expose of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Trump's decision to pardon him.
- Can you identify the four Beatles from these images of their lips?
- Time-lapse video: Constructison of a cruise ship, from structural assembly to putting on the trims.
- Quote of the day: "In my country, we go to prison first and then become president." ~ Nelson Mandela
- Cartoon of the day: Trump eyeing the Democrats! [Image]
(8) DHS bans Kaspersky Lab software in federal agencies: The Russian brand of security software is banned on account of it posing security risks, because of its producer's ties to state-sponsored cyber-espionage.
(9) Susan Rice acted appropriately when she had Trump officials 'unmasked' in US intelligence reports: In closed-door testimony, Rice told the House Intelligence Committee that she was concerned about the motives for UAE Crown Prince's secret visit to NYC (to meet with the Trump team, it turned out), breaking protocol by not informing the US administration about the trip. There was also a subsequent secret meeting in the Seychelles Islands between Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, and Steve Bannon with the Crown Prince, in which a Russian close to Putin was also present.

2017/09/13 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
George Harrison, 1967 Fleetwood Mac's airplane. The faces of peace in Jerusalem. (1) Photos: [Left] George Harrison, 1967. [Center] Fleetwood Mac's plane. [Right] Faces of peace in Jerusalem.
(2) A nice Wednesday in store, and a great week ahead (weather chart): Makes one feel guilty, as Hurricane Irma victims slowly return to their devastated neighborhoods to see if their houses are still standing and to begin recovery efforts.
(3) Jessica Lange: According to an August/September 2017 AARP Magazine feature on the talented actress, two years shy of hitting the big seven-oh, she is comfortable with where she is today and what she has accomplished (having won virtually all honors available to an actor/actress).
(4) Syria has complained about Iran forcing their women to wear headscarves at a soccer match: It has asked that Iran not host future soccer matches involving Syria, so that Syrian women can watch freely and without being harassed. Interestingly, Iranian women were not allowed to watch the same match, played at Tehran's Azadi Stadium! [Thanks to Masih Alinejad for this photo of Hamshahri newspaper's sports page]
(5) Half-dozen science and technology news headlines of the day:
- China is building the world's largest quantum research facility. (South China Morning Post)
- Hackers can purchase sufficient personal information to rig on-line voting rolls. (Harvard Gazette)
- Healthcare industry intrigued by diagnostic potential of artificial intelligence. (WSJ)
- Energy Department announces that Obama's solar goals have been met early (Bloomberg)
- Texas flood shows need for chemical safety rules. (Chemical & Engineering News)
- iPhone X inches forward on battery life, but major battery advances are just ahead (Scientific American)
(6) Bernie Sanders' Medicare-for-All proposal is gaining support: Healthcare will again be front and center in the 2020 elections, but this time in the direction of strengthening and expanding Obamacare, not repealing it.
(7) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day and other interesting odds and ends:
- CNN reports that of the 42 US Attorney nominations by Trump, only one is a woman.
- Hurricane Irma death toll Rising: At least five dead in Florida nursing home left with no air-conditioning.
- The Obamas announce the fall 2017 launch of their charitable foundation.
- "Tu Vui' Fa' l'Americani": What a wonderful jazzy song!
- Captivating performance of Tomaso Albinoni's "Adagio" by violinist David Garrett.
- Apple mimics Microsoft in announcing iPhones 8 and X in a recent event: Microsoft skipped Windows 9 as well.
(8) A network of more than 50 Web sites create fake 'like's and comments for Facebook posts: Research, to be presented at London's 2017 Internet Measurement Conference, reveals how a Facebook software loophole has been exploited by scammers, who make money through inserting fake 'like's and bogus comments.
(9) College student is helping people sue Equifax: Stanford University student Joshua Browder, who has built a bot to help replace lawyers in routine matters, by helping people quickly fill out the requisite forms, is encouraging its use to punish Equifax. The company apparently had very lax security and almost no empathy in the face of data breach for nearly 44% of all Americans.

2017/09/12 (Tuesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
You have seen similar photos, with a car going through the tree, but this one's from 1879, when horse-drawn carriages were the norm Natalie O'Donald, service-station attendant, 1943 Black sea bass weighing 384 lb caught with a rod and reel off Catalina Island, 1900. (1) History in pictures: [Left] You have seen similar photos, with a car going through the tree, but this one's from 1879, when horse-drawn carriages were the norm. [Center] Natalie O'Donald, service-station attendant, 1943. [Right] Black sea bass weighing 384 lb caught with a rod and reel off Catalina Island, 1900.
(2) Newly released film of Marzieh from 1963: It shows the popular Iranian singer paying a visit to and performing in the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan.
(3) Tweet of the day: "Fascinating to watch people writing books and major articles about me and yet they know nothing about me & have zero access. #FAKENEWS!" ~ From @realDonaldTrump
[My tweet in response: "You know, Mr. President, that people write highly accurate bios of long-dead presidents, with absolutely no access to them!"]
(4) UCSB's San Joaquin Villages: The villages form a just-completed student housing complex for ~1000 third- to fifth-year undergraduate students, which hosted an open-house and self-guided tour today. The 6-occupant residences are lovely, each with generously-sized bedrooms (3), bathrooms (2), kitchen, living/dining area, and closets. The complex has study lounges, a market/food-court, and a brand new dining commons, to be shared by San Joaquin and the pre-existing Santa Catalina twin towers (whose old dining commons will be converted for other uses).
Oregon's Eagle Creek fire Washington State's Columbia River Gorge fire (5) Wildfires on the US West Coast: Oregon's Eagle Creek fire (left) and Washington State's Columbia River Gorge fire are just two examples of fires raging in the smoke-filled western United States. Climate change does not just affect weather patterns and produce extreme storms, it is also creating more devastating wildfires.
(6) UCSB North Campus Open Space: This aerial photo (credit: Bill Dewey) shows the southwestern area of Goleta where I live, with Devereux Slough (center right) and decommissioned Ocean Meadows Golf Course that now belongs to UCSB (starting in center left and extending to the right, below the Slough), which includes areas designated for faculty housing. The mountains on Santa Cruz Island are sticking out of the low clouds covering the Santa Barbara Channel. The intersection of Storke and El Colegio Roads, with new student-housing developments, is close to the center of the left edge. The main campus begins near the top left of the photo. The yellow arrow shows about half of the 2-mile distance I walk from home to work, with the other half being within the campus itself. This afternoon, I went for a walk in the open-space area and took a few photos. Much of the area is fenced off due to landscaping and installation of irrigation system. Looking forward to a future visit after the work is completed. Restoration work on the open space is described in this newsletter.

2017/09/11 (Monday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Abraham Lincoln's head under construction on Mt. Rushmore What is believed to be the last photograph taken of RMS Titanic, before it sank in April 1912 Lady Liberty's hand and torch being built in a Paris studio, 1876 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Abraham Lincoln's head under construction on Mt. Rushmore. [Center] What is believed to be the last photograph taken of RMS Titanic, before it sank in April 1912. [Right] Lady Liberty's hand and torch being built in a Paris studio, 1876.
(2) Today is the 16th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001: Here is what I wrote last year on this occasion. "It wasn't the scale of destruction and loss of life that made the [September 11] event memorable. Many more people have died in wars of the kinds we are still waging. Much more property has been destroyed by natural disasters we no longer remember. What makes 9/11 memorable is the effect it had on our nation's psyche. The loss of trust it brought about (not only between America and its adversaries but also among us Americans). The end of care-free living it signaled for most of us. But there were also some positives. That horrible event helped open our eyes to deep-rooted ideological, cultural, and economic problems in the world." I went on to express hopes, alas unrealized, that the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election does not move us further in the direction of hatred, division, conflict, distrust, and injustice. Beginning with 2018, September 11 will also mark the anniversary of the widespread destruction of Hurricane Irma, which as I write these lines in the early morning hours, has left 7 million without electric power and many without drinking water and other necessities.
(3) CNN should offer Rush Limbaugh a chance to report live from Tampa to help him prove that Irma is a hoax.
(4) University of California legally challenges the Trump administration over rescinding DACA protections.
(5) EPA chief says this is no time to discuss climate change: Yes, helping victims of Harvey and Irma has high priority, but so does understanding how these monster-storms come about and how we can help slow down the death spiral.
(6) Talk about insensitive: In a post-9/11 interview, Donald Trump had said that a building of his, which was the second-tallest in downtown Manhattan had just become the tallest, after the collapse of the World Trade Center Twin Towers.
(7) Half-dozen brief news headlines and observations from the past couple of days.
- I've seen so much rain and wind on CNN that I think I will get soaking wet and blown away if I go outside!
- Photo collection depicting Jews of Mashhad, Iran.
- Sylvia Earle is the first female chief scientist of NOAA. [Time magazine story]
- The photo of Donald Trump and Chuck Schumer that drove the Republicans crazy. [Photo]
- AARP Magazine has published a special feature commemorating "The Summer of Love," Woodstock 1967.
- Look who's celebrating a milestone birthday in August or September 2017! [Image from AARP Magazine]
(8) Old Daneshkadeh-ye Fanni classroom: This photo shows the standard classroom layout when I attended Tehran University's College of Engineering in the mid-1960s. Next year, my classmates and I will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of our graduation in 1968. [Image credit: Fanni Reunion Foundation's Web site]

2017/09/10 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Goodbye kiss, 1960s Children being shown to their grandparents, over a section of the Berlin Wall Wedding day of JFK and Jacqueline Bouvier, 1953 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Goodbye kiss, 1960s. [Center] Children being shown to their grandparents, over a section of the Berlin Wall. [Right] Wedding day of JFK and Jacqueline Bouvier, 1953.
(2) This is a repost from 2013 to honor today's Grandparents' Day: In 1978, President Carter designated the first Sunday after Labor Day as US Grandparents' Day. Here is the "Grandparents' Song" and four fun facts.
- The average age of first-time grandparents in the US is 47 (2012 AARP survey).
- Your grandma is likely on Facebook: Research suggests that 38% of adult social-media users are over 65.
- The average number of grandchildren is 7; almost a quarter of grandparents have 10 or more grandkids.
- Not everyone likes the terms "grandma" and "grandpa"; some may favor "nana," "papa," "granny," etc.
(3) Let's start a Wealther Movement to dig into Trump's claims about his wealth, just as the Birthers questioned Obama's birthplace.
(4) My proposed nationalistic slogan: Make America Respect Truthfulness and Honesty Again (MARTHA)
(5) A question to ponder: Is it true that, even though there are 7 billion more people today than 3 million years ago, the world weighs the same now? [Answered by Neil deGrasse Tyson: Earth gains several hundred tons of mass per day, mostly from (small) meteors. People are in equilibrium with the Sun & food chain.
(6) Trump's NASA pick: True to form, he nominates Jim Bridenstine, who, if approved, will be the first NASA administrator ever with no scientific credentials. He is a climate-change denier to boot! The nominee has reportedly been scrubbing parts of his on-line presence ahead of Congressional hearings.
(7) EU funds a high-performance computing project using ARM Cortex processors and Xilinx Ultrascale FPGAs: Dubbed EuroEXA, the ambitious project aims to provide energy-efficient exascale computing capability within the 2022-2023 time frame. [Source: HPCwire]
(8) Half-dozen brief news headlines and other interesting items from the Internet, encountered today.
- Bannon in hot water with Catholic bishops he accused of having financial motives in supporting DACA.
- Cartoon of the day: "Gone with the Wind: Frankly my dears, I don't give a damn about climate change!"
- Russian artist Mikhail Sadovnikov uses his bare hands to create hypnotizing patterns on spinning wet clay.
- Cassini orbiter to meet its death, by being intentionlly crashed on Saturn, for the benefit of science.
- A great explanation of the origins of most US hurricanes. [2-minute video]
- Feminist Kristen Gillibrand has become the most effective resistance figure in the US Senate.
(9) The eye of Hurricane Irma reaches Florida: More than a million electric-company customers are without power, as the category-4 storm arrives and begins crawling up the state's western coast. Storm surge, on both Florida coasts, is considered the greatest threat to life. [Irma live update link]

2017/09/09 (Saturday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Dal Lake, Kashmir, 1956 Hikers on a natural rock bridge on Mt. Rainier, Washington, 1963 Gorky Park in Moscow, 1954 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Dal Lake, Kashmir, 1956. [Center] Hikers on a natural rock bridge on Mt. Rainier, Washington, 1963. [Right] Gorky Park, Moscow, 1954.
(2) Responses to Melania Trump's tweet about Read-a-Book Day include "What was the last book you read?" and "Tell your husband to read the Constitution."
(3) A dozen brief, but interesting, news and other items encountered on the Internet today:
- Bill Mahr's take on Irma, the approaching category-5 liberal hoax.
- After telling his radio listeners Irma was a liberal hoax, Rush Limbaugh quietly evacuates south Florida!
- Cuba was spared a direct hit from Hurricane Irma, but Florida won't be
- Largest evacuation in US history underway in southern Florida
- Disney World and other Florida theme parks are closing down
- Get ready for higher prices in your supermarket's produce aisle after Irma
- The US stops short of admonishing Myanmar for attacks on the Rohingya
- NBA encourages pro basketball players to engage on social issues
- Political humor: Vicente Fox, former Mexican president, will be running for US presidency in 2020.
- Can you name the two artists in this photo?
- Cartoon of the day: In search of a brick-and-mortar bookstore. [Image]
- The cast of "Harry Potter," from the fist day they met to their last day on set. [Photos]
(4) Thinking of Florida and Mexico on this beautiful Saturday morning in Goleta: As I sit in my courtyard under a sunny sky, sipping coffee, and reading a book, my mind wanders to the plight of Floridians, awaiting the arrival of category-5 (or 4) Hurricane Irma in their homes, shelters, or other temporary accommodations, and to Mexicans recovering from a devastating 8.1 earthquake, whose death toll of 60 and property damage estimates are certain to rise in the coming days. I try to imagine all my downstairs rooms in waist-deep or chest-deep water, or the roof of my house blown away, or debris strewn in every room. I am donating to funds to help the victims of both disasters right now, even though Irma has not yet made landfall on the US mainland (it is a near certainty that this Chinese/liberal hoax will devastate Florida). Please help now if you can!
(5) Watching/reading reports on Hurricane Irma: It now seems that Irma will go up Florida's western coast, with a more limited, though still severe, impact on the state's eastern coast. I am grateful to storm-chasers and journalists, who are braving extreme weather conditions to bring us up-to-the-minute info about Hurricane Irma, its path, and its impact, and to people working on setting up and staffing shelters.
(6) College soccer: Tonight, UCSB played the prennial soccer powerhouse Akron. My daughter's high-school friend Sydney Kovacs sang the national anthem before the game. Akron led 2-0 at halftime, on goals arising from defensive breakdowns. Akron won the game 3-1 after UCSB scored with a header off a free kick and Akron was awarded and scored on a penalty kick.
UCSB is having one of its poor season starts, remaining winless in 5 games (two scoreless ties and three losses), having scored only 2 goals in all. I hope they can turn it around, but that's doubtful, given the painfully slow defense and impotent offense that did not create a single scoring opportunity in the first half tonight.
Cover image for Jennette Walls' 'Glass Castle' (7) Book review: Walls, Jeannette, The Glass Castle: A Memoir, unabridged audiobook on 10 CDs, read by Julia Gibson, Recorded Books, 2005.
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Walls is the product of two uniquely unfit parents, a free-spirit, hands-off mother and a seductive, deeply-damaged father, who seems to have turned out okay at the end, against all odds. The author's adoration for her father and his unorthodox ways comes across loud and clear.
The glass castle refers to a fanciful project of the author's engineer/math-whiz father, who could not hold on to a job and was constantly on the move to avoid bill collectors (the FBI or mobsters, in his euphemistic language). The family would move into a small town, where they stayed until the mounting bills forced them to the next small town.
Because of the oddball parenting, the children suffered all sorts of health and safety hazards. Jeannette was molested by a neighborhood pervert and all the family members got themselves into tight spots, be it at the zoo, while lighting the Christmas tree, and virtually any other routine and non-routine activity. Their unorthodox family life sank the author's mom into depression, but the children were apparently much more resilient and turned out okay at the end, mainly due to escaping their family at the first opportunity.
As a memoir, the book is quite good, with much impeccable detail, along with insights into relationships. The writing is engaging, but the book isn't a masterpiece in any sense of the term. A film adaptation of the book, starring Brie Larson (as Jeannette), Naomi Watts, and Woody Harrelson, was released very recently.

2017/09/08 (Friday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
This helmet, dubbed 'The Isolator,' was proposed in 1925 for allowing people to focus on work without the distraction of outside noise One of the first self-serve gas stations in Los Angeles, 1948 Mobile booking cage, 1920. (1) History in pictures: [Left] This helmet, dubbed "The Isolator," was proposed in 1925 for allowing people to focus on work without the distraction of outside noise. [Center] One of the first self-serve gas stations in Los Angeles, 1948 (pictorial). [Right] Mobile booking cage, 1920.
(2) Hurricanes and earthquake: Hurricane researchers have never seen an image like this before (from left to right, Katia, Irma, Jose). Here is the predicted status of Irma over the next 5 days. Katia is less threatening than the other two. It is a low-grade hurricane, which will quickly turn into a tropical storm and then a tropical depression, as it hits the east coast of Mexico. Lucky for Mexicans, as the double hit of a major 8.1 earthquake near its southern Pacific coast, with 60+ deaths, major destruction, widespread blackouts, and possible tsunamis, and a strong hurricane on its opposite coast would have been quite devastating.
(3) Ten brief, but interesting, items encountered over the past couple of days:
- Why was AG Jeff Sessions smiling just before he announced the repeal of DACA?
- DeVos wants to undo the progress made in taking sexual assaults on college campuses more seriously.
- History in pictures: Iran of the 1960s/1970s. [Image]
- Trump's $1M donation to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, walked back by WH aides, is back on again.
- Finally, with the opening of Luna Grill at 3925 State Street, we have Persian-style kabob in Santa Barbara.
- The 2017 California Lemon Festival will be on Saturday-Sunday, September 16-17, at Goleta's Girsh Park.
- Cool poster for the 2017 California Avocado Festival, October 6-8 (Friday-Sunday), in Carpinteria.
- The cover of this week's issue of Santa Barbara Independent, in support of Dreamers. [Image]
- Cartoon of the day: Lawyer to clients: "He left everything to his friends on Facebook." [Image]
- How an old Israeli folk song ("Mayim Mayim") became a hit on Japanese video game soundtracks.
(4) In this weekly Iranwire newsletter, journalist Maziar Bahari tackles some tough subjects: Topics include women banned from entering stadiums to watch Iranian male athletes compete and rampant nepotism in getting jobs and contracts.
(5) Math puzzle: Famed mathematician Augustus De Morgan reportedly answered a question about his age thus: "I was x years old in the year x^2." When was De Morgan born?
(6) No, America isn't the highest-taxed country in the world: When truth-challenged saleseman Trump makes the claim that taxes in America are highest worldwide, he is referring to corporate taxes, which, on paper, are 35%. However, the same tax code provides corporations with many loopholes, placed there by their lobbyists' efforts. The average tax actually paid by American corporations is around 17%, half the paper rate. Many of our largest corporations pay a measely 3-5%; quite a few of them pay nothing. And this is excluding various illegal tax shelters. In fact, if Trump cuts the paper rate to 20%, while closing all the loopholes, he can get credit for a tax cut, while increasing tax revenues. American businesses will certainly love a "tax cut" of this sort! Such a slight of hand wouldn't be beyond Trump, who tried to sell tax cuts for the rich as healthcare reform! In terms of overall taxes paid, which is a fairer comparison, given that many other countries do not have separate federal, state, and other taxes, the US is the fourth-lowest-taxed country among OECD countries. [Data from a Twitter post by Aimee Lutkin, referring to economic data from several economists]
(7) It turns out that this story I posted to Facebook on September 8, 2016, exactly one year ago, was just the tip of the iceberg: In recent days, new information has emerged, indicating that the Wells Fargo Bank fraud was much more widespread.
(8) A very serious data breach: The Equifax data breach, announced yesterday, entails 143M people and 209K credit card numbers. Given the scope of this breach, I am sharing an e-mail I received today from the UCSB administration in the hopes of being of help to others. Please pay attention to all the recommendations therein, including being wary of fake Web sites pretending to belong to Equifax and offering to help you with your security concerns.

2017/09/07 (Thursday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Ageless beauties almost everyone knows Super-smart beauties, with a need for introduction (1) [Top-row photos] Ageless beauties almost everyone knows (left to right): Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly.
[Bottom-row photos] Super-smart beauties, with a need for introduction (left to right): The late Dr. Maryam Mirzakhani, Stanford University math professor and Fields Medalist; Dr. Jennifer McCarty, PhD in material science and engineering, currently at Oregon Health and Science University; Dr. Aditi Shankardass, MD/PhD in neuroscience, one of Britain's top young scientists.
(2) Taking the game of golf extremely seriously: With numerous fires raging in the western United States, many activities, including golf, are affected. But not for this guy!
(3) For the first time in history, four Americans are the top four women tennis players in the US Open semifinals: And they accomplished this feat in the absence of Serena Williams, who is on maternity leave.
(4) See if you can recognize these now-famous youngsters, shown in a 1994 photograph.
(5) Houston pastor returns to his Harvey-flooded home to play his piano, perhaps as a last farewell to it.
(6) American energy sector target of hacking campaign: According to the cyber-security company Symantec, a group of hackers previously linked to Russia gained hands-on access to the US power-grid operations, enough control that they could have induced blackouts at will. [Source: Wired]
Cover image of Ashlee Vance's 'Elon Musk' (7) Book review: Vance, Ashlee, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Fred Sanders, Harper Audio, 2015. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This is an impressively well-researched book. It appears to be thorough and honest, despite being an authorized biography. Musk was at one point in total ruins, both emotionally and financially. That he managed to pull both of his signature companies, Tesla and SpaceX, out of looming bankruptcies, is a testament to his will and work ethics. He used his own money, earned when he became a multimillionaire in his late 20s, after selling his interest in eBay, and amassed further wealth from other ventures, to pull the companies along, as they struggled to meet payroll and other expenses. Musk was one of the early beneficiaries of the dot-com boom.
There is much detail in this book about engineering challenges, which tech enthusiasts will love. There is also a lot of information about Musk's eccentricities and explosive temper, that reminds one of another tech genius, Steve Jobs. Other similarities between the two tech giants, who played important roles in advancing the US economy, include the fact that Musk was an immigrant (from South Africa) and Jobs, born in San Francisco, was the son of Syrian immigrants.
I enjoyed listening to this wonderful audiobook, which taught me a great deal about electric-car, battery, solar-power, and privatized-space industries. It comes with my highest recommendation.

2017/09/06 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
French little girl kisses American soldier after the liberation of France from German occupation, 1944 Personnel working on the atomic bomb (Manhattan Project) at the Oak Ridge facility in 1943 were warned about gaurding their secrets French Resistance fighters, Paris, 1944 (1) History in pictures: [Left] French little girl kisses American soldier after the liberation of France from German occupation, 1944. [Center] Personnel working on the atomic bomb (Manhattan Project) at the Oak Ridge facility in 1943 were warned about gaurding their secrets. [Right] French Resistance fighters, Paris, 1944.
(2) Hypocrisy to the extreme in Iran: Iranian women are still banned from sports stadiums, yet when Syria's soccer team played in Tehran, women accompanying the team were allowed to watch. Interestingly, Syrian male spectators came to their women's defense against Iran's morality police, which warned them for their improper hijab. Reporter Masih Alinejad has asked Iranian men to similarly support their women by announcing that they won't attend sports games until the ban on women entering stadiums is lifted. The man in this photo has joined the campaign.
(3) Climate change is a Chinese hoax, according to Trump: If so, the Chinese are a lot better at manufacturing hoaxes than actual products; these last two fake hurricanes (Harvey and Irma) were very convincing!
(4) Quote of the day: "Repealing DACA in order to MAGA is a load of CACA." ~ Comedian Steven Colbert
(5) Hurricane humor: Trump is extremely concerned that Jose is following Irma, because he may be a rapist.
(6) Finally, a killer app for Apple Watch: Boston Red Sox found guilty of using a smartphone and Apple Watch to record Yankee pitching signals, analyze them, and signal to the batter the type of pitch he might expect.
(7) A white woman's open letter to White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis.
(8) Oh, the irony! Photo taken at a KKK rally in Atlanta, Georgia, 1992, shows a Klan young child playing with the shield of a black riot policeman. You have to try very hard to teach a child to hate.
(9) After two days of hard work, my e-mail inbox is empty once again: My to-do list has, of course, expanded. I'll finish my social-media posts for the day and take the rest of the evening off to celebrate with a book.

2017/09/05 (Tuesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Russian bear-hunting armor from the 19th century The first-ever photo of the Rolling Stones Elephant-mounted machine gun from World War I (1) History in pictures: [Left] Russian bear-hunting armor from the 19th century. [Center] The first-ever photo of the Rolling Stones. [Right] Elephant-mounted machine gun from World War I.
(2) Hurricane Irma measures like an earthquake: Having just been upgraded to Category 5, Irma is said to be the most powerful storm to hit the East Coast. It is now more likely than previously thought to hit Florida.
(3) Interesting signs seen on church announcement boards:
- Tweet others as you would like to be tweeted.
- Cremation is your last chance for a smoking hot body.
- Sin is a short word with a long sentence.
(4) Fridge, come here! If it's too hard for you to walk a few steps to your fridge to fetch a drink or snack, this new product is for you. Responding to voice commands, the fridge navigates through your house, avoiding obstacles, to bring itself to you. Just in time for the final lazy days of summer!
(5) Andy Borowitz: Trump is afraid he doesn't have any fake empathy left for Hurricane Irma!
(6) Punish click-baiters by not clicking on their links (social media advice, with implications to journalism and scientific writing): If you see the headline "Trump Leaves for Weekend of Golf," you may or may not click on it to read the full story, depending on your level of interest in Trump's golfing vacations. But if the headline reads "Trump Does It Again!" your interest may be piqued enough to click and thus generate ad revenues for the posting entity. This method of generating clicks by baiting is at best dishonest and at worst immoral.
Unfortunately, many print and TV journalists do the same thing to pull in readers or viewers. Journalism is supposed to be about conveying information to readers/viewers in the most direct and efficient way possible, and such tricks deter from that mission. The fictitious TV-news teaser "The world will end tomorrow; details at eleven" isn't far off the mark.
As a professor who trains researchers, I tell my students that a good research paper begins with a clear and informative title, which does not over-promise or under-specify. Old-style paper titles used to be very long, precise, and super-boring, at times resembling abstracts in the modern sense. Here's a sample from British philosopher Bishop George Berkeley's writings in 1734: "The Analyst; or, a Discourse Addressed to an Infidel Mathematician. Wherein It Is Examined Whether the Object, Principles, and Inferences of the Modern Analysis Are More Distinctly Conceived, or More Evidently Deduced, than Religious Mysteries and Points of Faith."
Recently, it has become fashionable to have catchy or cute titles, but such titles should always be accompanied by subtitles to better define the content. Here is an example from my own work, the title of a forthcoming pair of bilingual lectures at UCLA (Sunday-Monday, November 19-20, 2017): "Fifty Years of Poor Penmanship: How Computers Struggled to Learn the Persian Script." Note how the catchy main title is supplemented by a more informative subtitle, all within a reasonable total length in wordsor characters.

2017/09/04 (Monday): Here are six items of potential interest.
First-ever Labor-Day Parade in the United States, NYC, 1882 (1) A very happy Labor Day to everyone! This historic photo shows the very first Labor-Day Parade in the United States, New York City, September 5, 1882. On that day, 135 years ago, participants began from City Hall, marched past viewing stands at Union Square, and assembled in Wendel's Elm Park for a picnic, concert, and speeches.
(2) The $10 million Oxford comma: Workers sue and win their overtime pay challenge case, because the company interpreted a sentence in its written regulations as if it had a comma between the last two items in a list of exemptions from overtime pay, whereas the judge ruled that the complaining workers were correct in their interpretation without the implied comma!
(3) The North Korean problem seems to be unaffected by sanctions or threats of military action: Kim Jong Un has proven himself smarter and a shrewder politician than he is given credit for. North Korea has absolutely no incentive to attack anyone militarily. So accepting it as a nuclear power and then taking our time in dealing with the problem would be much more logical than acting in haste.
(4) Half-dozen brief news and other items of interest:
- US economy humming along: But the job growth trend is very much a continuation of last year's trend.
- Yesterday's freak storm (microburst) in the Santa Barbara area, captured on video at Arroyo Burro Beach.
- This photograph purportedly depicts the US Border Patrol trying to stop a fugitive from escaping into Mexico.
- Relating the percentages of genetic sharing to family relationships. [Diagram]
- My daughter's "Choice Cuts of Potatoes" (a la the diagram depicting choice cuts of beef).
- Pictorial oddities: Jumping rope at a dizzying height; don't try this at home!
(5) Hurricane Harvey donations: Preacher Joel Osteen has blamed the criticism of his church's inaction in the wake of Hurricane Harvey on "misinformation" and advised victims not to have a "poor me" attitude. White House aides walked back Donald Trump's initial pledge of $1M from personal funds for Harvey victims.
Cover image for Leah Remini's 'Troublemaker' (6) Book review: Remini, Leah and Rebecca Paley, Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the first author, Ballantine Books, 2015. [My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads] ]
[On some versions of this book, Leah Remini is listed as sole author, while on others, Rebecca Paley appears as co-author.]
Indoctrinated into the Church of Scientology as a child, outspoken actress/producer/talk-show-host Leah Remini provides an insider's account of Scientology, based on her three-decade association with the secretive church. Much of her attacks are aimed at Scientology's high-level officials as well as Tom Cruise, who, as Scientology's highest-profile adherent, had achieved the status of an idol in the church. In fact, this celebrity worship is one of the main red flags for an organization having claims of being based on scientific principles.
Remini herself rose to a high status in the church, but then fell out of favor when she began to question certain dubious practices and the fact that punishment (financial and otherwise) administered to low-level church members did not seem to apply to its leaders.
One feature of the church is members ratting on one another, with the resulting "reports" of transgressions becoming part of the person's permanent record accessible to monitors and others charged with programming and reprogramming members. Remini ended up being declared a "suppressive person," or SP, in Scientology speak. Remini eventually succeeded in freeing herself from the bonds of the church and the financial ruin that it had brought to her and her family.
I had listened to Lawrence Wright's book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief (Random House Audio, 2013) in early 2016 and reviewed it in April of that year. So, many of Remini's revelations aren't new to me. Along with the aforementioned review, I had provided a link to an expose by ABC's newsmagazine "20/20" based on the book Ruthless, by Ron Miscavige, the father of the church's leader. Needless to say, the church dismisses Miscavige Sr.'s book as a shameless effort to make money.
Remini's book does add some personal experiences and anecdotes that confirm previous accusations of financial scamming and cruelty by the church. The trouble with such accounts is that we are left with the unsatisfying feeling of not being able to verify the claims, given that the church never properly responds to the accusations. There is enough corroboration among the various negative accounts about the church to suspect that something is seriously wrong. In other words, there is a lot of smoke, so it would be very surprising if there were no fire!

2017/09/03 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Albert Einstein at 3 Nikola Tesla in his lab JFK with astronaut John Glenn, on February 23, 1962 (1) History of science/technology in pictures: [Left] Albert Einstein at three. [Center] Nikola Tesla in his lab [Right] JFK with astronaut John Glenn, on February 23, 1962.
(2) Those who need health insurance should be reminded that sign-ups for the Affordable Care Act begin on November 1. Please help publicize this fact, because the Trump administration has slashed funding for health-care publicity as part of its efforts to sabotage Obamacare.
(3) Winshield wiper invented in 1902 by a woman who didn't drive: Entrepreneur Mary Anderson thought it made no sense that New York streetcar drivers had to keep jumping off to clean snow from the windshield. She soon won a patent for her "window cleaning device."
(4) Half-dozen brief news and other items of interest:
- North Korean 6.3-magnitude quake believed to be due to a nuclear explosion/test, likely an H-bomb.
- Hurricane attire: And someone must have told Donald to hold the umbrella over Melania's head! [Photo]
- McCain to Trump: Congress isn't the president's subordinate. [CNN story]
- Helpful GIFs explain concepts in trigonometry.
- An interesting photo: Harry Potter portrayer reads Harry Potter on the set of "Harry Potter."
- "Dignity" is the name of a new statue that just went up in South Dakota.
(5) Abstracts of my forthcoming November 19-20 talks as part of UCLA's Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran.
Persian abstract of my forthcoming talk as part of UCLA's Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran English abstract of my forthcoming talk as part of UCLA's Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran
(6) Trump praises the Coast Guard for its Texas rescue efforts: But was it really necessary to slam the media in the same sentence? We are all aware of the extent of devastation and the urgent need for assistance based on media reports. Reporters stood in chest-deep contaminated waters to give us compelling photos and to relay pleas for help. Previously, Trump had referred to "ratings" during the storm coverage, as if this is just another reality show and not a human tragedy.
(7) Evacuation orders have been issued for the Alamo burn areas and flash flood warnings are in effect for much of Santa Barbara County in the wake of a fast-moving massive storm.
(8) Wildfires out west: More than 1000 firefighters are battling the largest wildfire in the history of Los Angeles, to the north of downtown. This is just one of many wildfires raging the western United States.
(9) Multi-tasking in computers and humans: In computing, multi-tasking refers to the presence of several partially-completed tasks in memory, which allows the OS to switch to a different task when one task encounters a glitch that requires waiting. There is some overhead in switching from one task to another, but when potential wait periods are long, the overhead is well worth paying. We humans often take pride in our ability to multi-task, but ours is far less efficient than the computer's. Our brains are super-slow in context-switching. Moreover, gathering all resources (physical, digital, and mental) required to resume an interrupted task takes time and leads to slowdown. Multi-tasking in humans tends to reduce productivity and interferes with developing expertise. [Abridged from an article by Peter J. Denning in the September 2017 issue of Communications of the ACM, where he offers suggestions to reduce the ill effects of human multi-tasking]

2017/09/02 (Saturday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Martin Luther King Jr. being arrested in St. Augustine, Florida, for demanding service at a white-only restaurant, 1964 An African-American girl eating lunch alone, after being newly integrated into a high school, 1959 Until the 1960s, Australian Aborigines came under 'Flora and Fauna Act,' that is, they were considered animals not human beings (1) History in pictures: [Left] Martin Luther King Jr. being arrested in St. Augustine, Florida, for demanding service at a white-only restaurant, 1964. [Center] An African-American girl eating lunch alone, after being newly integrated into a high school, 1959. [Right] Until the 1960s, Australian Aborigines came under "Flora and Fauna Act," that is, they were considered animals not human beings.
(2) How the 1953 CIA-engineered Iranian coup opened the way for religious fundamentalism, and other stories about the coup, in one newsletter.
(3) Start-up provides services for teaching endangered languages that have only a few thousand speakers.
(4) History in pictures: Next time you go to NYC's Madison Square Garden to enjoy a ballgame or concert, imagine the venue filled with 20,000 Nazi sympathizers, aka Friends of New Germany, in the early 1930s.
(5) Test your geographic knowledge: Which US state has the longest coastline? Which European country has the longest coastline? Which world country has the longest coastline?
(6) The Republicans learn that disaster funding is important: Right before Hurricane Harvey, the GOP had proposed $1B cut to FEMA's budget.
(7) About Angelina Jolie's 2015 movie "Difret": I seldom review movies, but this one affected me, not just because of its direct story and message, but also because of an indirect lesson it contains. The film's story is about a 14-year-old Ethiopian girl, who is tried for killing a man who abducted and forced her into marriage. The only thing standing between the girl and the death penalty is a zealous young lawyer determined to save her client's life. In one scene, after the lawyer brings the girl home and feeds her, the girl asks why the attractive lawyer does not have a husband, wondering if she was a "bad" woman who had dishonored her family. Here is a girl who was abducted and forced into marriage, thinking that not being married is unnatural and shameful. We are all conditioned, some more than others, into thinking that we are not complete or functional human beings if we don't have a spouse or mate. And this is the film's indirect lesson referenced above. The film isn't a masterpiece by any stretch of imagination, but it is definietely worth watching.
(8) Today was a big day in Trump news: It appears that General Kelly won't last much longer as Chief of Staff. He is barely tolerated now, given that Trump has no other option. But soon, someone will whisper something in his ears, and his oversized ego will take over in an early morning tweetstorm! Meanshile, Trump pledges $1M to Hurricane Harvey victims, yet Hurricane Sandy victims haven't seen a dime from a similar pledge of four years ago. On the Russia front, Robert Mueller is reportedly looking at a multi-page draft of FBI Director Comey's firing letter for evidence of obstruction of justice. A much shorter version of the letter, with modified justification for the firing, was eventually sent, but the longer version, drafted by Stephen Miller, reportedly hints at the true reasons. Finally, on tax cuts, there is a Persian proverb that "a liar is forgetful." In a speech in Springfield, MO, Trump sang the praises of Reagan's tax cuts, saying that "it was really something special ... Under this pro-America system, our economy just went beautifully through the roof." Here is what he had said at the time about Reagan's tax cuts, which caused property prices to plummet: "This tax act was just an absolute catastrophe for the country."

2017/09/01 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Ballerinas over New York City, 1925 View from the top of the Empire State Building in NYC, 1947 Square du Vert-Galant, Paris, 1960
(1) Some interesting historical photographs: [Left] Ballerinas over New York City, 1925. [Center] View from the top of the Empire State Building in NYC, 1947. [Right] Square du Vert-Galant, Paris, 1960.
(2) Subway cleared to sell 11-inch foot-long sandwiches: A class-action settlement about the shortened sandwiches is thrown out by an appellate court, because its only beneficiaries were the lawyers. But isn't that the case for nearly all class-action lawsuits?
(3) Shady Russian figures emerge left and right in the Trump collusion probe: Here is an insightful summary of new developments by Trevor Noah. (Yes, these days, comedians provide the most insightful commentaries).
(4) Trump administration ditches Obama-era equal-pay data collection rule, with Ivanka Trump's blessing.
(5) The Harvey disaster wasn't just bad weather, but also bad city planning: Houston's sprawling hands-off growth did not take natural disasters into consideration, while boasting about economic performance and creature comforts. The compassionate nation that we are, we will bail them out, but then some other community decides to play Russian roulette with its city planning, and so on.
(6) Half-dozen brief science/technology news headlines of the day
- Humans, cover your mouths: Lip-reading bots are out to get you (ZDNet)
- Software/IT top list of high-paying jobs, with $105,000 average (TechRepublic)
- Machine-learning earthquake prediction shows promise in lab (LANL News)
- US House of Representatives to vote on autonomous vehicle bill next week (Reuters)
- Michael Dell donates $36 million for Harvey; says he rode bike there (USA Today)
- Drones could help in Texas, but emergency responders disagree (Scientific American)
(7) Fox News poll assesses Trump's performance, overall and on specific issues: I post the raw poll data with no interpretation, so that my conservative friends stop claiming that Trump is being vilified by the liberal media.
(8) Odds and ends, in four images: The Beatles taking selfies in the mirror, before selfies were cool. Design evolution of soda cans, from 1948 to the present. Museum/theme-park in Billund, Denmark, built out of Lego-like large blocks. Currently at the letter 'Y,' Sue Grafton is almost done with her alphabet series!
(9) Divination by [conference] program committee: This is the title of a column by Professor Moshe Vardi of Rice University in the September 2017 issue of Communications of the ACM.
The Neural Information Processing Systems (NIPS) conference conducted an experiment in 2014, which was the first of its kind to quantitatively assess the effectiveness of decision-making processes in choosing conference presentations from among a large number of submissions. The program committee split itself into two independent committees and then subjected 10% of the submissions, or 166 papers, to decision-making by both committees. The two committees disagreed on 43 papers, which, given NIPS' acceptance rate of 25%, implies that close to 60% of the papers accepted by the first committee were rejected by the second one, and vice versa [see the analysis by Eric Price]. Vardi then asserts that, in a typical conference, there is broad consensus on accepting the top 10% of the papers and on rejecting the bottom 25%. For the remaining 65%, the acceptance/rejection decision is fairly random. He likens the decision process to "guilty until proven innocent" (reject, unless there is a compelling reason to accept) and suggests that switching to the "innocent until proven guilty" mode of operation may be beneficial.
After reading Vardi's column, I brought to his attention a paper entitled "Low Acceptance Rates of Conference Papers Considered Harmful," about the pitfalls of being too selective in accepting papers, which I published in IEEE Computer more than a year ago [PDF]. He had not seen the paper before, but liked it enough to refer to it both on the on-line version of his column and on his Facebook page, where it has already generated dozens of shares. The latter led to a spirited discussion that is still ongoing. It's quite telling that my paper produced hardly any feedback for more than a year but that a reference to it on social media led to extensive discussion in a couple of days. Kudos to social media!

2017/08/31 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly, backstage at the 1956 Academy Awards Saint Thaddeus, an ancient Armenian monastery in Iran's West Azerbaijan province How the area impacted by Hurricane Harvey compares with California. (1) Some interesting photographs. [Left] Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly, backstage at the 1956 Academy Awards. [Center] Saint Thaddeus, an ancient Armenian monastery in Iran's West Azerbaijan province. [Right] Putting it in perspective: How the area impacted by Hurricane Harvey compares with my state.
(2) Alternative facts, taken to absurd heights: Kellyanne Conway says that Trump's greatest attribute is humility! You can't make this stuff up, believe me!
(3) Female physicist, 23, has the potential of becoming the next Einstein: Cuban-American Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski, a PhD student at Harvard with full freedom to pursue whatever she wants, has been a standout since age 9, when she flew a plane. She later graduated from MIT in 3 years, with a perfect GPA of 5.0.
(4) Even machines become sexist when exposed to our societal norms: University of Virginia professor Vincent Ordonez and colleagues fed two large collections of photos to train their image recognition software. The built-in biases in the photos (depicting more men than women and containing significant gender bias in objects shown) led not just to a corresponding bias in software but actually an amplified form of it. Conclusion: Algorithms cannot be applied blindly to solve problems. [Source: Wired]
(5) Tone-deaf president: Trump tweets about more important matters, as Houston is submerged. [Image"]
(6) Resignations continue from the Trump administration: New departures at State Department, combined with scores of unfilled positions, leave the government short-handed in the event of a major crisis.
(7) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Harvey's death toll rises to 28, as it is downgraded to a tropical depression
- Flooded Texas chemical plants raise concerns about toxic emissions
- Arizona judge makes pardon of Arpaio contingent upon holding a hearing
- Floods in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal kill 1200
- Kamala Harris is co-sponsoring Bernie Sanders' Medicare-for-all bill
- Whole Foods prices slashed after Amazon's takeover becomes effective
(8) Apple's removal of Iranian software from its App Store punishes the country's techies and ordinary people much more than it affects the government: Some very useful apps have been developed over the past few years, which help both Iranian and international users make productive use of their smartphones. Even more so than in Western societies, smartphones are lifelines for Iranians, who use them extensively for work, play, and, most importantly, political activism on social media. Revenues from the App Store also serve to motivate and sustain many a techie or tech business, with the results benefiting not just them, but also technology development worldwide. I hope that Apple reconsiders this decision, which was likely brought about by pressures from the Trump administration, hell-bent on undoing the nuclear agreement and the associated easing of economic sanctions.

2017/08/30 (Wednesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Protester at the 1969 Miss America Pageant Earth, as seen from Apollo 17: Africa and the Arabian Peninsula are seen near the top Female Lockheed employee working on a P-38 Lightning in Burbank, CA, 1944 (1) Some interesting photographs. [Left] Protester at the 1969 Miss America Pageant. [Center] Earth, as seen from Apollo 17: Africa and the Arabian Peninsula are seen near the top. [Right] Female Lockheed employee working on a P-38 Lightning in Burbank, CA, 1944.
(2) First announcement of my talks as part of UCLA Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran: "Fifty Years of Poor Penmanship: How Computers Struggled to Learn the Persian Script" (both venues are on the UCLA campus)
[Persian] Sunday, November 19, 2017, Dodd Hall, Room 121, 4:00-6:00 PM
[English] Monday, November 20, 2017, Humanities Building, Room 365, 2:00-4:00 PM
(3) "Confounds the Science": Trump parody, sung beautifully by Simon and Garfunkel look-alikes to the tune of "Sound of Silence"
(4) Time travel added to alternative facts: Obama is blamed on Twitter for not paying enough attention to Hurricane Katrina, which hit 3.5 years before his presidency began.
(5) Sean Spicer finally gets his wish of meeting the Pope: Spicer surprises the pontiff with some alternative facts from Breitbart about Jesus and circumstances surrounding his conception! [Photo]
(6) Half-dozen brief news and other items that came up today:
- Harvey's death toll rises to 28: Years-long recovery needed to restore America's fourth largest city.
- Looking years older, Iranian journalist Hengameh Shahidi released from jail after 6 months.
- Funny protest signs, batch 3: This final batch completes a dozen sign selections. Enjoy!
- A wonderful Persian poem by Mowlavi (Rumi).
- Street in Homs, Syria: 2011 (top) vs. 2014 (bottom). [Photos]
- Looking forward to 2020: No shortage of passionate, highly qualified women to run for US presidency.
(7) Here is a comment I made on a Facebook post 7 years ago, today (August 30): "Let me put in a few last words to close this discussion thread. I hope no one dismisses arguments from the other side without giving them a fair hearing. According to the American way of life, everyone is innocent until proven guilty. And the said guilt should be proven in a court of law; it cannot be inferred from personal statements or newspaper stories. In particular, I cannot be presumed guilty by association, that is, by something that a friend or acquaintance of mine has done. Bear in mind that the situation is quite complex and should not be approached with simplistic generalizations. If a bunch of cousins with the same ethnic background, same religion, and pretty much the same family upbringing cannot agree on an issue, then you can imagine how much more disagreement there will be at the national or global level. Just keep your eyes, ears, hearts, and minds open."
(8) Walking from work to home this afternoon: I paid a visit to the UCSB library to take a look at new books and snapped this photo of the elevators in the old part of the building, which were given a make-over when a new section was added to the building. In this set of photos, subjects include the newly opened Starbucks at the University Center and super-high tide at the beach. [Panorama 1] [Panorama 2] Finally, I filmed some gentle waves at high tide on an Isla Vista beach. [2-minute video]

2017/08/29 (Tuesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
College dorm room, 1905 Thousands of returning US troops pulling into NY Harbor in 1945. Two-horse street cleaner, NYC, 1905 Boys working in a coal mine, 1911 The shadow of a Hiroshima victim permanently etched on a set of steps Boy reads The History of London amid the ruins of a London bookshop after an air raid on October 8, 1940 (1) History in pictures: [Top left] College dorm room, 1905. [Top center] Thousands of returning US troops on Queen Elizabeth, pulling into NY Harbor in 1945. [Top right] Two-horse street cleaner, New York City, 1905. [Bottom left] Boys working in a coal mine, 1911. [Bottom center] The shadow of a Hiroshima victim permanently etched on a set of steps. [Bottom right] Boy reads The History of London amid the ruins of a London bookshop after an air raid on October 8, 1940.
(2) "Witch hunt" produces "smoking guns": Trump attorney reached out to Kremlin during campaign about building a Trump Tower in Moscow. [CNN story] Also, proposed Russia business deal was seen by Trump associate as helping elect "our boy." [Marketwatch story]
(3) A furniture-store owner offered his store to Hurricane Harvey victims, but preacher Joel Osteen refused to open his church.
(4) Capitalism and socialism at work: Gas stations in the Harvey disaster area are raising prices of gas and other supplies severalfolds (by the way, gas prices will go up nationwide in a day or two). Meanwhile, socialist rescue workers and good Samaritans are working to save lives at the same salaries or for free.
(5) Two dumb statements in fewer than 140 characters: "I don't believe Hurricane Harvey is God's punishment for Houston electing a lesbian mayor. But that is more credible than 'climate change.'" ~ Ann Coulter in a tweet
(6) This is no time to get even: Both Texas Senators and nearly all of the state's House members opposed aid to Hurricane Sandy victims. Hoping that aid to Hurricane Harvey victims is approved quickly and with broad support. Meanwhile, there are reports that South Houston levees have breached and residents are told to get out NOW! This calamity ain't over yet. Many residents who were cleared to return to their neighborhoods discovered there's nothing left to go back to. Please help!
(7) The rise of Iranian-Americans in tech: This insightful article discusses Dara Khosrowshahi, the new Uber CEO, his extensive network of techies, and elements of the Iranian culture that contribute to success in tech. "As The Washington Post noted in an article earlier today, Khosrowshahi's brother, Kaveh Khosrowshahi, is a managing director with Allen & Co. His cousin, Amir Khosrowshahi, co-founded Nervana, an artificial intelligence company that Intel acquired last year for more than $400 million. He is also cousins with Hadi and Ali Partovi, high-powered twins who are both founders and tech investors."

2017/08/28 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
What 1988 Angelinos thought their city would look like in 25 years The most iconic photograph of all time, shot nearly 5 decades ago, on December 24, 1968, from Apollo 8 Segregation in Shady Grove, Alabama, 1956 (1) Some interesting images. [Left] What 1988 Angelinos thought their city would look like in 25 years. [Center] The most iconic photograph of all time: Dubbed 'Earthrise,' it was shot nearly 5 decades ago, on December 24, 1968, from Apollo 8. [Right] Segregation in Shady Grove, Alabama, 1956.
(2) The business of kids' sports: Time magazine, issue of September 4, 2017, has an extensive cover story about how the main goals of kids' sports (physical activity, fun) have been eclipsed by the big-business aspects. Families pay exorbitant sums for equipment and clinics, while the youth leagues serve as free training grounds for big-money college and professional sports.
(3) Heat wave coming this week to our area (100+ degree temperatures): Goleta, Santa Barbara, and other coastal communities will be around 15 degrees cooler.
(4) Ukraine topples Soviet statues: The country has dismantled all 1320 of its statues of Lenin, as well as an additional 1069 Soviet-era monuments as part of a ban signed into law by President Petro Poroshenko in 2015. [US opponents of removing statues and other symbols of Confederacy please take note.]
(5) Ebrahim Yazdi, Islamic Republic of Iran's first FM, dead at 86: A medical doctor by training, he had been battling cancer and passed away in Izmir, Turkey. He was generally viewed negatively as a Western-educated enabler of Khomeini and someone who helped the mullahs solidify their power immediately after the Islamic Revolution. He was later sidelined and jailed intermittently with other opposition figures. As a key member of Iran's Freedom Movement, he also opposed the Shah and returned from exile to participate in the post-revolutionary interim government of PM Mehdi Bazargan.
(6) Persian music: Mojgan Shajarian sings, accompanied by traditional Persian instruments. Mojgan's dad, Mohammad Reza, is a beloved master musician, as is her brother, Homayoun. Talent runs in the family!
(7) Iranian-American Dara Khosrowshahi new CEO of Uber: He is aware of the company's misogynistic past and seems set to make improvements in hiring and promotion policies.
(8) Insurance solicitations: Every time disaster strikes somewhere in the country, insurance companies go into overdrive, trying to use the shock of the event to convince you to buy insurance products. While it is a good idea to review your insurance needs from time to time, try not to make snap decisions in this area based on current events. Insurance companies make money when there is no illness, accident, or disaster. Selling flood insurance, say, to someone who lives in a low-risk area for floods is a gold mine that they would readily exploit. Be alert! In many cases, spending your money to help flood victims is a much better use of the funds than buying flood insurance of your own.
(9) Final thought for the day: This photo shows Nepali men carrying a Mercedes that Adolf Hitler gifted to King Truibhuvan in 1940. A natural question is why the car had to be carried in this manner. It presumably arrived at a port and needed to go to some location where the King could enjoy driving it. Were there no roads for transporting the car, or was it just a matter of economizing on cost, perhaps because slave labor was cheaper than the alternatives?

2017/08/27 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Logo for Santa Barbara Public Library's 100th anniversary event Gaston Rebuffat mountain-climbing in France, 1944 The Williams sisters with the Reagans (1) Some interesting images: [Left] Santa Barbara Public Library System's Centennial; see item 2 below. [Center] Gaston Rebuffat mountain-climbing in France, 1944. [Right] The Williams sisters with the Reagans.
(2) Today is the 100th anniversary of Santa Barbara's Public Library: There are ceremonies and community activities at the central branch, downtown, which I will miss owing to time conflict with a soccer match I am attending. However, I will visit during the week to see all the exhibits and the results of a community-built Lego-block model of our city. Here is a news story from Santa Barbara News Press, dated August 27, 1917.
"Without ceremony, the doors of the new public library were opened to the public at 9 o'clock this morning and the librarians began lending and receiving books. All about the great reading room were signs of unfinished work. From other parts of the building came the sound of hammers and busy workman and carpenters in aprons and painters, with brushes and pails, now and then passed in the library among the librarians and the patrons at the reading tables or the book racks. The library was opened today before the building was finished so that the students who begin their fall term of school today may not be hindered in their work by the lack of library accommodations."
(3) Helping Harvey's victims: Hurricane/tropical-storm Harvey's damages are already quite extensive and they will likely grow in the coming days. If you are wondering about how to help victims of the Texas floods in the wake of Harvey, may I suggest Direct Relief International, which is at the top of the list of best and most effective charities of both Charity Watch and Charity Navigator. If you have another charity in mind, make sure to check it with respect to effectiveness (how much of the money you donate goes to actual aid), using one of the sites linked above.
(4) Instrumental music: Una Despacito instrumental mix. [18-minute video]
(5) The anti-arts/culture president: Donald and Melania Trump won't attend this year's Kennedy Center Honors, "to avoid political distraction."
(6) Cartoon of the day: Guide to Redundantown. [By John Atkinson] [Image]
(7) Funny protest signs, batch 2: One more batch coming on a future date.
(8) Fake-news Oscars night selfie. [Image]
(9) College soccer: In its second game of the young season, UCSB faced Siena College at Harder Stadium, early this afternoon. The 0-0 tie after 110 minutes (including two 10-minute golden-goal overtime periods) was highly unsatisfying, given that UCSB held the upper hand throughout. The inability to score against a weak opponent, despite numerous opportunities that included many corner kicks, does not bode well for the rest of the season, including games against Big West Conference opponents.

2017/08/26 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
First Apple computer ever made Screenshot from an SNL parody of Trump's rally in Phoenix (1) A couple of interesting pictures: [Left] First Apple computer ever made, sold for $667 in 1976 and 1000x that amount at auction in 2013. [Right] Screenshot from an SNL parody of Trump's rally in Phoenix.
(2) Removing a statue is no more a revision of history than impeaching a president: In both cases, we come to realize that what we did was ill-advised and muster the courage to own up to and correct our mistake.
(3) Funny protest signs, batch 1: Two more batches coming on future days.
(4) Exaggeration by a factor of 3.6 isn't really a lie, by Trump's standards: He claimed a crowd size of 15,000 in his tweet, whereas the Phoenix Fire Department indicated a crowd of 4169 in a venue with capcity of 4200.
(5) Twitter is officially banned in Iran, but anybody who is anybody is using it: Thus begins an article about Iran's top tweeters, which include several government officials, conservative and reformist opposition figures, and journalists.
(6) Hurricane Harvey hits Texas with a vengeance: Meanwhile, hurricane Donald, too busy hiring and firing press people, still hasn't gotten around to naming heads for FEMA and NOAA.
(7) Trump pardons Sheriff Joe Arpaio: Arpaio was convicted under Arizona's state laws, which makes Trump's pardon a case of Federal government interfering in state affairs, though he has the authority to pardon anyone. More than a simple pardon of one person, Trump's action is seen as a signal to his current and former aides to not cut deals with the Special Counsel investigating connections with Russia, essentially telling them that Trump would pardon anyone who is loyal to him.
(8) College soccer: UCSB's 2017 season began last night, with a match against St. Mary's. I chose to watch soccer over the last installment of the James Bond summer film series, "Skyfall."
Luckily for UCSB, the score was 0-0 at halftime. A slow-moving defense, routinely circumvented by fast forward and wing players, and imprecise passing were just two of the problems. The goalie performed well, however.
It was still scoreless at the end of the second half, which was a tad more evenly played. Per college soccer rules, there were two 10-minute overtime periods, where the first team to score wins (golden goal).
The overtime periods were also scoreless, leading to the final score 0-0, a desirable outcome for UCSB, given St. Mary's dominance throughout the game.
(9) Today is Women's Equality Day in America: The August 26 observance commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, giving women the right to vote in 1920.

2017/08/24 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Turing Laureates at the ceremony to celebrate the award's 50th anniversary (1) Turing Laureates celebrate the award's 50th anniversary: This photo shows 15 of the 22 honorees present at the event celebrating the Turing Award, informally known as the Nobel Prize of computing. [Photo credit: Communications of the ACM, issue of September 2017]
(2) The cleaner, more logical structure of the Persian calendar compared with the Gregorian (Western) calendar. [Image]
(3) Pot to kettle: North Korea criticizes Trump's Twitter habits, calling them weird and ego-driven!
(4) Some fine people among Trump supporters. [Credit: Time magazine, issue of August 28, 2017]
(5) What a difference a year makes: From "Mexico will pay for the wall" (2016) to "If Congress does not pay for it, I will shut down the government" (2017)!
(6) Creative photo editing! [Image]
(7) Anderson Cooper deconstructs Trump's lie-a-minute Arizona speech: Unfortunately, it's no longer about documenting Trump's lies in the hopes of having his supporters see the light. That will never happen. It's now about the sane majority taking the controls away from a hateful, conspiracy-minded minority.
(8) The greatest disservice one can do is to teach naturally happy, trusting, and tolerant children to hate.
(9) Final thought for the day: Yesterday's flight back from Portland to Santa Barbara was uneventful, which is good! But it was quite heartbreaking to see multiple wildfires raging in Oregon, with the largest one being more than a month old. One airline-industry innovation, which I encountered for the first time on this trip, is offering on-board wi-fi access, not just for communications, but also for entertainment on passengers' personal devices. This likely saves airlines a bunch for not having to worry about providing devices on seat-backs and doing away with the associated maintenance and obsolescence challenges.

2017/08/23 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Grande Galerie of Louvre Museum, abandoned during World War II Poor mother and children during the Great Depression (California, 1936) San Francisco's Market Street after the 1906 earthquake (1) History in pictures: [Left] Grande Galerie of Louvre Museum, abandoned during World War II. [Center] Poor mother and children during the Great Depression (California, 1936). [Right] San Francisco's Market Street after the 1906 earthquake.
(2) Our morning in Seattle: We began by taking the monorail downtown and strolling around the city. We next visited the Pike Place Market, sampled the fruit and food, and listened to street musicans. [Photos] [Music video 1] [Music video 2] Google Photos made this nice slide show with music from some of our shots. The final stop on our stroll in downtown was Starbucks Roastery on Pike Street. This is where the now-giant company had its humble beginning. In this expansive store, you can watch coffee beans being roasted and enjoy a large variety of exotic drinks not found in ordinary coffee shops. [Photos] [Video]
(3) Seattle's Museum of Pop Culture: Special exhibits today included the history of science-fiction, a separate section on "Star Trek," a guitar gallery (where both the evolution of guitar as a musical instrument and guitars owned by famous musicians were on display), a digital-games gallery, and a special tribute to David Bowie. A maternal cousin of mine, a long-time resident of Seattle, accompanied us on this visit. [Photos] [Video]
(4) Final activities for the day in Seattle: Picnic-Style late lunch (take-out food) and a stroll in a beautiful park near downtown with a Seattle-resident cousin, followed by a drive-through visit to the University of Washington, so that my daughter could form an idea of the campus. [Photos]
(5) Hurry up: You have only a few hundred million years to catch a total solar eclipse. As the moon slowly drifts away from the Earth, totality will go extinct.
(6) Musical performance in Kermanshah, Iran, nearly five decades ago, 1970. [1-minute video]
(7) Steve Bannon's first all-out attack on Trump: Breitbart slams his Afghanistan speech.
(8) Yesterday in Olympia, Washington: After having a very tasty, authentic Italian pizza in the Capitol district of Olympia, we visited both the old and new Capitol buildings and walked along the magnificent waterfront, before continuing on to Seattle. [Photos] [Panorama]
(9) Last night in Seattle: What should have been a 3.5-hour drive from Lincoln City, Oregon, to Seattle took us 7+ hours (not counting our stop in Olympia), owing to unusually heavy traffic and a large brush fire on both sides of the freeway along the way. Once in Seattle, we walked to the Space Needle from our hotel, leaving the exploration of the Pike Place Market and Museum of Pop Culture for tomorrow. [Photos]

2017/08/21 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
NASA's beautiful capture of today's total solar eclipse (1) The great solar eclipse of 2017: My daughter and I watched from a Starbucks patio in Salem-Keizer, Oregon. We were unable to find viewing glasses, but as we sat trying to figure out the best way to enjoy the experience, a group of Middle-Easterners (perhaps students) sat nearby and began taking out their viewing glasses. I asked one member of the group where they got their glasses. He said that he had an extra pair, and immediately reached into his backpack to retrieve them for us. My daughter and I shared that pair. At 10:10 AM, the area was in a soft glow, like late evening hours. By 10:20 AM, the totality, which lasted a tad under 2 minutes, was over. Here are some highlights of the eclipse in Salem, Oregon. After we watched the eclipse in Salem-Keizer, my daughter and I drove to Salem and went to visit the Capitol Building, just as the crowds shown in this video were dispersing. [Photo by NASA]
(2) On scientific predictions: Several prominent scientists and science advocates have pointed out that whereas we had been told many decades ago about today's total solar eclipse, with precise predictions about the time of occurrence, the event had no skeptics or deniers!
(3) Rescheduling the eclipse: Here is a story on the margins of today's once-in-a-lifetime experience. When a museum in Dallas announced a free solar eclipse viewing event, a mom asked that the event be rescheduled to a weekend day, so that kids don't miss school.
(4) Comedian Jerry Lewis dead at 91: I grew up with his films (many with Dean Martin) and his comedy, which seems quite silly looking back.
(5) Mysterious piano appears at La Cumbre Peak in Santa Barbara: Instagrammer 'Josegarcia_4' said he wanted to add to the peak's beauty. "I thought it would be a great idea to bring these two things that I love together. Music with an incredible view, it's like the cherry on top for La Cumbre Peak."
(6) Today in Salem, Oregon: After visiting Oregon's Capitol Building (including its entry hall, Senate and House chambers, governor's ceremonial office, and its beautiful grounds), we walked to the waterfront, taking some photos along the way and by the river. An interesting feature of downtown Salem streets is the flower pots hung from some light and traffic-signal posts. [Photos] [Panorama 1] [Panorama 2]
(7) This afternoon at Oregon State University: My daughter and I spent a couple of hours on the OSU campus, my MS-degree alma mater (1969-1970). We walked by Sackett Hall, the graduate-student dormitory, whose wing C housed me then, the engineering area, and the magnificent Memorial Union. After grabbing a bite to eat, we were fortunate to be able to have coffee with my dear Facebook friend Nasim Basiri, who had arrived at OSU just days ago to pursue a PhD degree and to teach in women's studies. [Photos] [Panorama]
(8) Lincoln City, Oregon: At the end of today, here is where we ended up, walking on the beach, dining at a seafood restaurant, and relaxing at our overnight airbnb accommodations. We walked a lot, both yesterday (8 miles) and today (5 miles). [Photos]
(9) Yesterday in Portland: As part of our solar-eclipse trip to northern Oregon, my daughter and I explored the city of Portland. We visited the world-famous Powell Books, a city-block-size heaven for book lovers. I took notes at their "New & Recommended" bookshelf, while trying hard not to yield to temptation! While my daughter spend part of the afternoon with an old friend, I visited OMSI, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, with its wonderful exhibits, hands-on science and technology displays for curious people of all ages, and book/gift shop. And here are some photos from our morning stroll downtown and at Oregon Health Sciences University (one of the schools my daughter is considering for MD/PhD), taking the sky-cabin to the waterfront, and walking over a bridge devoted to pedestrians, bikers, and mass transit.

2017/08/19 (Saturday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Rolling of the eyes: A picture is worth a thousand words. Traditional strongmen ('pahlavans') are shown holding up elevated roadways in these Tehran murals Funny yard-sale lawn sign (1) Interesting pictures to ponder about. [Left] Rolling of the eyes: A picture is worth a thousand words. [Center] Traditional strongmen ("pahlavans") are shown holding up elevated roadways in these Tehran murals. [Right] Funny yard-sale lawn sign.
(2) The psychology of hate: "In a study by Stanford neuroscientist David Eagleman, the brains of participants were scanned while they watched as six hands on a screen were randomly swabbed with cotton or stabbed with a needle. When people witnessed the hands that were punctured by the syringe, the regions of their brains associated with pain activated. They felt empathy. The study was then replicated and each hand was displayed with a one-word religious label such as atheist, Christian, Jew or Muslim. When participants saw the hands being stabbed of those who shared their religious affiliations, their brains on average showed more activity in the regions known for empathy. Even atheists were more empathetic towards fellow atheists. As concludes Eagleman in his book The Brain: The Story of You: 'It's about which team you're on'." [Newsweek story]
(3) Late-night talk-shows: Even though they have a seemingly inexhaustible daily supply of material for their humor, hosts of all four major late-night talk shows would rather see their source of jokes gone! Seth Meyers and Jimmy Kimmel have had particularly brutal comedy routines about the liar-in-chief.
(4) Persian poetry: A folk tale or proverb from Sa'adi's Boustan, warning against being so self-centered as not to mind the burning of half a city, as long as our own house or business is spared.
(5) The paradox of tolerance: First described by Karl Popper in 1945, this decision-theory paradox states that if a society is tolerant without limit, its ability to be tolerant will eventually be seized or destroyed by the intolerant. Hence, Popper's seemingly paradoxical conclusion that in order to maintain a tolerant society, the society must be intolerant of intolerance!
(6) Quote of the day: "All these folks worried about erasing history when the Confederate statues come down will be thrilled to learn about the existence of books." ~ Jamil Smith
(7) Final thought for the week: Yes, that's for the week, not for the day! I am signing off for a few days, as I prepare to travel to the Salem, Oregon, area to experience the total solar eclipse of 2017 (coming on Monday 8/21, 10:16 AM). My daughter and I will take the opportunity of going to the beautiful Pacific Northwest to visit Portland, Seattle, and the Oregon coastline, and to pay a quick visit to my MS-degree alma mater, Oregon State University in Corvallis.

2017/08/18 (Friday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Cincinnati's old main library, demolished in 1955 The German airship Hindenburg flies over NYC in 1937 Candidates for the job of painting the Brooklyn Bridge, showing that they have what it takes A restored photograph of Abraham Lincoln Chevrolet assembly line, 1957 Manhattan Beach, CA, in the 1950s (1) History in pictures. [Top left] A man browsing for books in Cincinnati's old main library, which was demolished in 1955. [Top center] The German airship Hindenburg flies over NYC in 1937. [Top right] Candidates for the job of painting the Brooklyn Bridge: The four men are being put to the test to see if they have what it takes (1926). [Bottom left] A restored photograph of Abraham Lincoln, which was used for the design on the penny. [Bottom center] Chevrolet assembly line, 1957. [Bottom right] Manhattan Beach, CA, in the 1950s.
(2) General Kelly's posture and downward gaze spoke volumes, as he listened to Trump taking back his condemnation of white supremacists and neo-Nazis during a bizarre news conference!
(3) The retweet that was deleted: Donald Trump's retweet showed Trump Train smashing into a man, with his torso and head replaced by the CNN logo. Apparently, the similarity of this image with the car mowing down protesters in Charlottesville did not occur to our high-IQ, tweeting president!
(4) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day and other miscellaneous items of interest:
- Fiat-Chrysler, BMW, and Intel to team up for developing self-driving cars.
- Hundreds dead in Sierra Leone mudslide: Rain continues to fall, creating additional dangers.
- Talk about "top of the world": So impressive! [Photo and video]
- Cartoon of the day: The allies attacked the Nazis from all sides in World War II, and they had no permit!
- Model photographed on a Paris street in 1920. [B&W photo]
- Missouri State Senator urged to resign over expressing 'hope' for Trump's assassination.
(5) The most-liked tweet in history: "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion ... " ~ Barack Obama [Photo]
(6) Reactions to Trump's comments on racism: Three prominent magazines (Time, The New Yorker, The Economist) respond with cover images.
(7) Steve Bannon leaves the White House: As we cheer his firing, let us not forget that he was at least partially competent for the job he had, whereas the boss who fired him has zero competence and no credibility! Right after the firing, Breitbart turned on Trump and reinstated Bannon in the position he held before joining the Trump team. Little will change as a result, though. Anti-Trump forces will continue to distrust Breitbart, the original fake-news source. Trump supporters will easily lump it with CNN, NYT, WP, and other sources they consider fake news. Here is a depiction of Trump's White House after seven months: Flynn, Spicer, Priebus, and Bannon aer gone. Can he fire Pence? Sebastian Gorka is rumored to be the next adviser to fall: He served as an assistant to Bannon.

2017/08/17 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Helmet cam from 1966 (1) History in pictures: Formula One world champion wearing an early helmet camera to capture on-board footage in 1966.
(2) Mississippi's first inter-racial couple: August 3, 1970. [Photo]
(3) College soccer season is about to begin at UCSB. [Image]
(4) Goleta Public Library secedes from the Santa Barbara Library System: Conflict had been brewing for some time over what the Goleta staff considered excessive overhead fees and stifling regulations. It is estimated that going solo will save money and lead to more of the donations going toward book purchases. [Source: Santa Barbara Independent]
(5) Stanford computer science lecturer ladysplains the now-infamous Google manifesto and why it has won so much support.
(6) A dozen killed, scores injured in Barcelona's terror attack: Islamic State claims responsibility for a van plowing into a crowd. Two suspects have been arrested.
(7) Finding humor in death: What message would you want etched on your gravestone? Here are a dozen funny ones.
- Merv Griffin: I will not be right back after this message.
- Frances T. Dederich Thatcher: Damn, it's dark down here.
- Robert Clay Allison: He never killed a man that did not need killing.
- Billy Wilder: I'm a writer. But then, nobody's perfect.
- Andrew J. Olszak: Pardoned in old age by wife and children.
- Gay Vietnam veteran: ... they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.
- Joel Dermid: My loss, but your gain.
- Jerry L. Farrer: I was supposed to live to be 102 and be shot by a jealous husband.
- Anonymous: I was hoping for a pyramid.
- Esther E. Freer: I'd rather be reading this.
- Pancrazio Juvenales: Buen esposo, buen padre, mal electricista casero.
- Steve and Anya: ... Mastercard & Visa still looking for the payment they missed.
(8) Michael Chabon's open letter to 45's Jewish supporters: He addresses all Jews, particularly Jared Kushner, Steve Mnuchin, and others who serve him. "To Sheldon Adelson and our other fellow Jews still engaged in making the repugnant calculation that a hater of Arabs must be a lover of Jews, or that money trumps hate, or that a million dollars' worth of access can protect you from one boot heel at the door: Wise up."
(9) RIP, Trump presidency: Resist racism and bigotry! Insist on your rights! Persist in seeking justice!

2017/08/16 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Photos of Neda Agha-Soltan and Heather Heyer (1) Two women freedom fighters: Several posts on social media since the events in Charlottesville have noted the parallels between Neda Agha-Soltan, who died in June 2009, when government-backed thugs and snipers targeted peaceful marchers protesting Iran's rigged elections, and Heather Heyer, who was intentionally mowed down in August 2017 by a bigot's car, because she was peacefully protesting the hateful messages of Nazis, white supremacists, and KKK, newly empowered by the Trump administration.
Neda's death became an inflection point in the opposition and freedom movements in Iran. Will Heather's death advance similar causes in the US?
(2) Turning the body into a cancer fighter: A new approach, awaiting FDA approval converts the body's own cells into cancer-destroying agents. Here is how it works. [Source: Time magazine, August 21, 2017]
- T cells, which can seek and destroy cancer cells, are extracted from a patient's blood.
- The T cells are genetically modified to produce chimeric antigen receptors that make them better fighters.
- The CAR T cells are grown in large numbers in the lab and are infused back into the patient.
- The CAR T cell receptors recognize unique proteins on the cancer cells, latching onto and destroying them.
(3) Advice on the desirability of solitude: "Before you can be with others, first learn to be alone." This is the title of an article by Jennifer Stitt, with Persian translation by Erfan Sabeti. Lately, many sociologists and psychologists have made this same point about the need to be able to spend some time with yourself.
(4) See if you can name these five musicians, photographed at the 1975 Grammy Awards. What about the five musicians in this old photo?
(5) Mesmerizing gif images created by a blind artist.
(6) Many white nationalists who do genetic ancestry testing don't like the results: They aren't as white as they think. One prominent member of the group was determined to be 86% European and 14% African.
(7) Mom-Killing: This is the title of a 76-minute documentary in Persian ("Maadar-Koshi") about the crisis awaiting the human race (Iranians, in particular) in terms of water shortage, resulting from serious abuse of Earth's resources. This abuse amounts to killing Mother Earth, hence the title.
(8) A recurring pattern: Trump embarrasses himself and his party by saying or doing something utterly unpresidential and the Republicans grumble in tweets and on-camera statements. But after a few days, they rally around the bigot-in-chief and liar-in-chief, as if nothing had happened. Taking their congressional majorities away from them is the only way to make them see that their abhorrent behavior has a cost.
(9) James Bond film screening at UCSB's Campbell Hall: In this penultimate installment of this summer's film series, I watched "Goldeneye," with Pierce Brosnan as Bond. Afterwards, I snapped this photo of Campbell Hall, before it went dark.

2017/08/15 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
A statue being toppled in the US Faces of hatred and violence look the same everywhere Anti-nazi protester who escaped the Nazis once (1) Some thought-provoking pictures. [Left] Toppling statues isn't appropriate for citizens of a country where the rule of law is respected; see item 2 below. [Center] The faces of hatred and violence look the same everywhere: Iran, top; America, bottom. [Right] Woman who survived the Nazis in Europe holds anti-nazi sign in a protest against Charlottesville march of racists and bigots; see item 3 below.
(2) Toppling statues is so Third-World: I do understand that honoring traitors and white supremacists is hurtful to groups that have been victimized by their actions and to others who defend justice and freedom for all, but we are a nation of laws and there are much better ways of fielding our grievances. Take your ideas about removing statues or erecting new ones to city councils and other civil bodies. Suggest that statues of historical figures who are not universally admired be moved to museums and be displayed as part of balanced narratives of our country's past. If you don't succeed in having a statue removed, simply accept it like any other unpleasant fact of life and move on.
(3) To my pro-Trump Jewish friends: Trump's support for Israel, like his support for Alt-Right groups, is just a slogan to appease his voters. He would abandon any group of supporters if it is politically expedient. A genuinely pro-Israel president would not appoint a political novice as an emissary for solving a decades-long conflict that has taken thousands of lives. Peacemaking requires a genuine respect for both sides of the conflict.
(4) Floating +pool in NYC: This large plus-shaped pool can float in any body of water and can filter the water intake to make it safe for swimming. It has been deployed on the Hudson River in New York City.
(5) Too bad the e-mails diversion made us miss Hillary Clinton's warnings about the empowerment of white supremacists and other hate groups. [Video]
(6) Enabler-in-Chief: Here is how Trump emboldened white supremacists and gave them permission to attack their opponents. Today, he essentially took back his condemnation of hate groups, by claiming that most of the people gathered in Charlottesville did not belong to the hate groups he had named, that they were there to peacefully protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, and that alt-left instigated the attacks.
(7) Oklahoma City dodges a second bombing: A 23-year-old man, who activated what he thought was a detonator for a bomb, supplied to him as part of a sting operation, has been arrested and charged. The first OKC bombing was perpetrated in 1995 by anti-government militant Timothy McVeigh.
(8) Google's DeepMind AI teaches itself by watching videos: The new system learns concepts, even when it has not learned the words to describe what it hears or sees. Instead of relying on human-labeled datasets, the new algorithm learns to recognize images and sounds by matching what it sees with what it hears. The potential of learning by analyzing huge unlabeled datasets, such as millions of YouTube videos, is immense. [Source: New Scientist, August 10, 2017]
(9) Final thought for the day: Two-thirds of white men and 53% of white women in America voted for Trump. So, when David Duke warns Trump not to forget that he was elected by white America, he is absolutely right. This is why Trump can't criticize white supremacists (and, by the way, the same reason he can't criticize Putin)!

2017/08/14 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Selfie with a stick, 1934 Paying tribute to horses, donkeys, and mules that died during World War I Woman receiving a ticket for wearing a bikini in Italy This rhino-size 1956 hard disk drive had a capacity of 5 MB VW bug owners watching a 'Herbie' movie at a 1960s drive-in theater Children of Chicago, 1941 (1) History in pictures. [Top left] Selfie with a stick, 1934. [Top center] Soldiers pay tribute to 8 million horses, donkeys, and mules that died during World War I. [Top right] Woman receiving a ticket for wearing a bikini on a beach at Remini, Italy. [Bottom left] A rhino-size 5 MB computer hard-drive being loaded onto a PanAm plane in 1956. [Bottom center] Volkswagen bug owners watching "Herbie, The Love Bug" at a 1960s drive-in theater. [Bottom right] Children of Chicago, 1941.
(2) An oft-ignored Nazi legacy: A thought-provoking film about how children and grandchildren of war criminals deal with their guilt by association. A grim reminder of the legacy of Nazis in the wake of Charlottesville events.
(3) A very talented 16-year-old: Ethan Bortnick, whom I saw on a PBS television concert on Saturday, sings songs of several generations, with a voice that foretells of greatness. He is also a songwriter, pianist, composer, actor, and philanthropist. Here is a 4-minute teaser for his concert, which should not be missed.
(4) Paid maternity leave around the world: I posted an interesting collection of 40 world maps years ago. Here, I'd like to single out one of those maps. Ours is the only major country with no paid maternity leave, accompanied by Surinam, Liberia, and 5 other small Third-World countries.
(5) Racism and bigotry have consequences: Some participants in the Charlottesville rally have been outed through social-media efforts and at least one has lost his job.
(6) An explanation of irregular verbs in English. [4-minute video]
(7) Pets have significant carbon pawprints due to the meat they consume. [Image from Time magazine, issue of August 21, 2017]
(8) Kennedy Center honorees have harsh words for the Trump Administration: They express disappointment over Trump gutting the budget for arts and humanities. One honoree, legendary producer Norman Lear, will skip the White House reception preceding the ceremony, though he doesn't know what he will do if Trump and his wife are seated among the honorees, as is customary, during the awards ceremony. Another honoree, immigrant Gloria Estefan, will try to make a point that immigrants have had and are having significant positive impact on the US. The ceremony will be on December 3, 2017, with CBS broadcasting it on 12/26, 9:00 PM ET.
(9) I have logged off my e-mail account and won't log back on until tomorrow morning. This is to allow our IT staff to complete the transition from campus-based e-mail servers to Google Connect (a UCSB-customized version of "Google Apps for Education" platform), which will provide seamless e-mail (work/personal), calendaring, collaboration, and other services. I have just returned from an information session about the transition process and am excited to set up and start using the new service tomorrow.

2017/08/13 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Professor Lotfi A. Zadeh in his later years (1) Professor Lotfi A. Zadeh dead at 96: Born on February 4, 1921, in Baku, Azerbaijan, and educated at University of Tehran and Columbia University, he was best known for his formulation of fuzzy logic and its later generalization to soft computing. According to Google Scholar, Zadeh's research papers have been cited a total of 150,000 times, with his ground-breaking paper on fuzzy sets alone receiving nearly 60,000 citations. When he settled in the United States, he shortened his name from the original "Lotf-Ali Asgarzadeh." I met him on November 3, 2000, when his BISC research group at UC Berkeley invited me to present a talk entitled "Gaining Speed and Cost Advantage from Imprecise Computer Arithmetic," a precursor of a field of research now known as approximate computing. We kept in touch since then via e-mail, as he kindly endorsed my application or nomination for various honors. May his soul rest in peace!
(2) Separation of powers: It's alarming that Trump thinks members of Congress are there to help and follow him, rather than represent the interests of their constituents. As much as I detest Mitch "do-nothing" McConnell and other Republicans who talked about repealing Obamacare for years, without thinking through a replacement plan, I detest Trump even more for thinking that he can bully his way to legislative victories.
(3) Do you miss a president who was an orator, now that you have one who talks like a NYC cabbie? If so, this 2-minute video clip of Obama talking about climate change is for you.
(4) History in pictures: These aren't Iranian men wearing scarves to show solidarity with women objecting to mandatory hijab laws. They are LAPD officers going undercover to pursue a purse-snatcher in 1960. [Photo]
(5) Piano with Johnny: A ragtime-jazz version of the birthday song for all those who are celebrating birthdays. This talented Disney pianist has many other wonderful performances on YouTube.
(6) Gypsy Kings concert in Tehran: Hard to believe, but there they are, in four photos and a video! Maybe this is what caused flooding in northeastern Iran!
(7) Quote of the day: "The poison spewed by Nazis, white supremacists, and the KKK is not who we are as a country. Takes less than 140 characters to say it." ~ Sally Yates
(8) On the Charlottesville events (march by Nazis, white supremacists, and KKK): This is no time to condemn violence on all sides. You don't blame all sides when a Muslim terrorist mows down people with a car, do you? One by one, Trump aides and apologists appeared on various Sunday news shows to claim that his condemnation of Charlottesville "was perfectly clear"!
(9) Carillon recital at UCSB's Storke Tower: There aren't very many functioning carillons around the world, and UCSB has one of them atop Storke Tower. Today, Department of Music Adjunct Professor Margo Halsted played the carillon for one hour, beginning at 1:00 PM. After the recital, which was streamed live on Facebook, I took the opportunity to photograph Storke Tower and its surroundings, including its pond with colorful flowers and fairly large fish. [Photos] [Video 1] [Video 2, "Music of the Night"] [Video 3] [Video 4]

2017/08/12 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
A photographer, looking like a robot Hidden Buddha statue near Sapporo, Japan The little girl in the movie 'Titanic,' then and now (1) Some interesting photographs. [Left] This isn't a robot, but a photographer holding a camera in front of his face! [Center] Hidden Buddha: A hill of 150,000 lavenders has been built around the giant statue in the outskirts of Sapporo, Japan, because it was deemed too imposing for the pristine environment of the cemetery where it is located. [Right] The little girl in the 1997 movie "Titanic," then and now.
(2) After driverless cars, will come pilotless planes: Research by investment bank UBS indicates that pilotless passenger planes will save the airline industry $35 billion a year and could lead to substantial fare cuts, that is, if people choose to actually fly in them (54% of respondents in a poll said they were unlikely to take a pilotless flight). [Fortune and USA Today have reported on this story]
(3) On anti-Semitism in Iran: The ruling mullahs and a sizable subset of their opposition share in anti-Semitic views. Whereas they all proclaim that they have nothing against Jews, they accuse anyone opposing them as being Jewish, Zionist, or an infiltrator planted by Jews or Israel. Prevailing narratives in this area use several perjorative terms to refer to such undesirable Jews. Even former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was accused of being a Jew pretending to be Muslim (much like the years-long assertions that Obama was a closet Muslim). [Radio Zamaneh's Persian article on this subject]
(4) Blues Beatles' rendition of "You Can't Do That": The Fab Four's music sounds great in any style! Look for other performances by Blues Beatles on YouTube.
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines and noteworthy Internet memes of the day:
- White Supremacists hold rally at University of Virginia: Clashes with counter-protesters reported.
- Making America great again, one city at a time: Charlottesville, check! 19,353 cities to go!
- Flooding in northeastern Iranian provinces leaves 11 dead. [Video caption incorrectly says "northwestern"]
- Ridiculously overloaded vehicles from around the world: Pictorial with 23 photos.
- Fire and fury | will not stop | the grand jury!
- How to safely view an eclipse with a cereal box. [NASA instructional video]
(6) Kim Jong Un's major gift to Donald Trump, China, and Russia: North Korea's threat of nuclear attack has given Trump the perfect tool to deflect attention from the Russia probe and other woes, while quieting his opponents, who do not dare criticize him in the face of a dire national-security situation. Meanwhile, China and Russia are playing the good guys by counseling calm on both sides, even though, secretly, they take delight in seeing the US enter an international crisis.
(7) Observation by comedian Bill Maher: How ironic that the two bombs dropped by the US on Japan almost exactly 72 years ago were code-named "Fat Man" and "Little Boy"! We seem to have come full circle.
(8) CNN severs ties with Jeffrey Lord for using a Nazi slogan on social media: Of course, he was just being facetious, not! I didn't know about Lord's Nazi links, but I was outraged by the way he always offered an "explanation" for the most idiotic Trump statements or actions. Anderson Cooper once said to his face that if Trump defecated on his desk, he will come up with a justification! Trump supporters seem to be falling like flies.
(9) Final thought for the day: "Most presidents evolve and become more mature with experience in the Oval Office. Trump may be the only one devolving and turning more infantile with time served." ~ Anonymous

2017/08/11 (Friday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Graduating physicians in 1885 Philadelphia Penniless young family hitchhiking in 1936 Young Saddam Hussein joking around with a female companion (1) History in pictures. [Left] Just-graduated physicians in 1885 Philadelphia: Women from India, Japan, and Syria. [Center] Penniless young family hitchhiking on US Highway 99 in California (November 1936). [Right] Young Saddam Hussein with a female companion: Totally irresistible charm!
(2) UC Irvine's admissions snafu: This story about the withdrawal of 500 admission offers by UC Irvine is from several days ago, but now that NYT has covered it, I am sharing the story. Withdrawal of admission over incomplete paperwork or other problems in the dossier isn't uncommon and it has been done by other UC campuses as well. What is unusual is the large number of students affected. The article explains that colleges sometimes underestimate how many students will accept their admission offers, leaving them in a bind to either create room or look for excuses to revoke some of the offers.
(3) Half-dozen brief tech news headlines of the day:
- Chinese developers file antitrust complaint against Apple (WSJ)
- A stretch of road in France has been paved with solar panels (BBC)
- Ford studies fix to carbon monoxide leaks in police SUVs (Detroit News)
- Power plants burning West Virginia coal to get subsidies (Bloomberg)
- Solar power industry prepping for the August 21 solar exlipse (Vox)
- Canada's anti-Google ruling has broad free-speech implications (Yahoo)
(4) Two views of the current stand-off with North Korea: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper likens it to World War I, when the world blundered into conflict. President Trump, on the other hand, views the situation like a game of poker, tweeting: "Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!"
(5) Trump's response to Putin's expelling 755 US diplomats: Trump makes light of the situation by thanking Putin (jokingly, I suppose) for reducing our payroll costs. Hundreds of people lose their jobs because of Putin's action and Trump jokes about it? No criticism of Putin, no harsh words for him? What roles were the 755 employees playing in Russia? How will their functions be replaced? Even assuming that we want to reduce our payroll, why should we let Putin decide which positions to cut?
(6) Ironic fact: Glen Campbell's final studio album, released just weeks before his death, is entitled "Adios."
(7) SNL's Weekend Update summer edition premiered on NBC to good reviews: Scaramucci was like Christmas in July; actually, he was like Hanukkah in July, because he was around for about a week and it's a miracle he lasted that long!
(8) Meanwhile on Facebook: It's National Book Week. The rules are: Grab the closest book to you. Go to page 56. Copy the 5th sentence as your status. Don't mention the book. Post these rules as part of your status.
"Even if famine, plague and war become less prevalent, billions of humans in developing countries and seedy neighbourhoods will continue to deal with poverty, illness and violence even as the elites are already reaching for eternal youth and godlike powers."

2017/08/10 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
'This Modern World' cartoon by Tom Tomorrow (1) Cartoon of the day: Last panel of "This Modern World" comic strip, suggesting why Trump thinks that he received congratulatory phone calls from the Chief Boy Scout and the President of Mexico.
(2) One of a series of useful PSAs to help us recognize fake news sources: There are fake sources that we all know based on their track records. Then there are fake sources that pretend to be legitimate media outlets we trust by using a trusted source's name within their Web domain names. [Video]
(3) North Koreans hold rally to mock Trump and renew their threat of military action: Thousands vow to "become bullets and bombs" to defend their regime. "[Trump is] bereft of reason," says the kettle to the pot!
(4) Archaeologists uncover "little Pompeii" south of Lyon: Famous for its Roman theater and temple, the city of Vienne was a key hub on the route connecting northern Gaul with the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis.
(5) Former President Obama sings Ed Sheeran's "Shape of You": Nice montage!
(6) Half-dozen brief Donald Trump news headlines of the day:
- Transgender service members sue Trump over his exclusion order (NYT)
- Seventy percent of Americans think looking at Trump finances fair game in Russia investigation (CNN)
- Trump picks racist birther Sam Clovis to head FDA's science division (Scientific American)
- Trump's Tudor-style early-childhood home is listed on Airbnb (CNN)
- Trump's solution to opioid crisis: Telling kids drugs are 'no good' (NY Magazine)
- Trump says his 'fire and fury' response wasn't tough enough (Yahoo News)
(7) Trump doubles down on his response to North Korea: In fact, he says that perhaps his previous response wasn't tough enough. Here's a question. What is tougher than 'fire and fury' the world has never seen before?
(8) Irreconcilable views: I watched Fox News videos on-line for about half an hour on Tuesday, as I was pursuing stories about a Fox report containing classified material. By the end of the half-hour period, I came to see why those watching Fox News think in a certain way about Trump's presidency. Nowhere in the videos I watched was there a hint of discord in the White House, disagreements between the Congress and the president, the 73% distrust of words spoken by the president revealed by a recent poll, Trump family's many conflicts of interest in their business dealings, and his flip-flopping on scores of issues from his candidacy to his presidency. Let me conclude by citing five news headlines from Fox about the Russia investigation and Special Counsel Robert Mueller; no sign here that the probe is closing in on Trump himself.
- Fox News: Top congressman calls for Mueller to resign
- Judge Jeanine: Russia probe is a phishing expedition
- Fox Nation: Mueller has already destroyed his own legacy
- Sean Hannity: Rod Rosenstein should be ashamed of himself
- Sean Hannity: Mueller's witch hunt is beyond corrupt
(9) History in pictures: Ottoman 1911 calendar page in Ottoman Turkish, Arabic, Greek, Armenian, Hebrew, French, and Hungarian languages.

2017/08/09 (Wednesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Jovial Afghan girls in traditional costumes at a regional music festival Giant chicken balloon, seen near the White House Distances from North Korea to some US territories and states (1) [left] Afghan girls at a regional music festival. [Center] Giant chicken balloon, with Trump-like hair, seen near the White House. [Right] Distances from North Korea to Guam, Hawaii, and San Francisco: Other US mainland cities may also be within the range of North Korean missiles.
(2) Protocol for the death of a monarch: If and when Queen Elizabeth II passes, the information will be communicated to her private secretary and the prime minister and then, over secure phone lines, to a host of other officials, all by means of the code phrase "London Bridge is down." Next, dozens of countries for which QE II is the official or symbolic head of state will be notified one by one. Eventually, the general public will be informed. Thought you might want to know!
(3) Half-dozen miscellaneous items for your enjoyment.
- The cutest pastry chef ever: She is only 2.5! [Video]
- Amazing graphic art, involving liquid gold. [Video]
- We are fairly comfortable on the CA coast, but it's scorching hot just a few miles inland! [Map]
- The amazing human spirit: Ballet class in a destroyed Russian town during World War II. [Photo]
- Osborne: The very first laptop (for super-strong laps) from 1981. [Photo]
- History in pictures: Taking a screenshot in 1983. [Photo]
(4) Words of wisdom from Moniro Ravanipour: Two statements are forbidden in the Iranian culture. One is saying that you are happy and successful. The other is saying that you don't need anyone's help. You have to play the victimhood and despair cards to be taken seriously. [Persian text]
(5) Income growth, 1980 vs. 2014: The percentage growth used to be higher for low- and middle-income families. Now, not only has the curve flipped, but the discrepancy has gone through the roof. [Source: Bernie Sanders tweet] [Chart]
(6) Half-dozen of today's Trump-related news headlines:
- Donald Trump is fed 'propaganda' every morning to keep him happy
- FBI's raid of Paul Manafort's home indicates that Bob Mueller means business
- Trump calls for acting FBI director's firing after the Manafort home raid
- Trump attacks Mitch McConnell for his failure to repeal Obamacare
- Tillerson and Trump seem to be playing good-cop, bad-cop on North Korea
- Pence is mistaken if he thinks he'll have a political afterlife once Trump exits
(7) This evening on the UCSB campus: After watching "The Spy Who Loved Me," another installment in the James Bond summer film series, I made a brief stop on the way back at a Storke Plaza concert, recorded this sample video, and shot this photo of a nearly-full moon over UCSB's Campbell hall.
(8) Final thought for the day: I'm flattered to be receiving the young-adult e-mail newsletter from GoodReads. They counteract, to some extent, the regular cremation and funeral deals I have been receiving in the mail!

2017/08/08 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
(1) Book review: Barker, Kim, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, e-book, Doubleday, 2011. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Cover image of Kim Barker's 'The Taliban Shuffle' The author of this bittersweet (humorous writing about dire situations) was a reporter at ProPublica and the South Asia Bureau Chief for The Chicago Tribune in the late 2000s. Barker tells us that she got so addicted to the adrenaline rush of war zones that living in the West, along with routine work and family matters, became a downer. Even her relationship with a steady boyfriend suffered in comparison with the thrills of living in a lawless society.
Barker marvels at the utter lack of security in Pakistan and Afghanistan, to the point that even a meeting between the heads of the two states, each with many thousands of sworn enemies, did not have security screening. She argues that two events derailed America's progress in Afghanistan: Diversion of manpower and other resources from Afghanistan to Iraq in 2003 and a US military truck plowing into rush-hour traffic in Kabul some 3 years later, which created much resentment against the Americans.
Barker's book is ultimately about human bonds and understanding the context and circumstances that produce behaviors and customs that appear quite strange at first sight. Another take-away (hardly a revelation) is that incongruities of war bring out the worst in everyone, regardless of why they got involved.
Barker ends on a pessimistic note about the prospects of the US and its allies being able to bring the conflict to a satisfactory resolution. The fragile balance of power in the region and the realities of a harsh environment, with rampant distrust between the warring parties, leaves little room for optimism that a workable system of governance can be implemented. The long-term commitment of the entire world to bring about solutions is simply not in the cards.
The 2016 movie "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" was based on this book.
(2) President Trump apparently re-tweeted a bot or a fake account: The account @protrump45, whose post Trump retweeted, is a fake account for pro-Trump propaganda, which has since been suspended by Twitter.
(3) US-China relations enter a sensitive phase: Typically, seasoned envoys are sent to deal with China. But, 7 months into the Trump administration, the position of Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia remains vacant. So, Trump is sending novices Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump to lay the groundwork for his own visit. Not only is China too sophisticated an adversary to be handled by novice politicians, but reactions of other Asian countries, especially South Korea and Japan, to such visits requires careful gauging by experienced diplomats.
(4) Climate change draft report published: Fearing that the Trump administration will bury the alarming report, scientists have a draft published by The New York Times as a safeguard.
(5) Two losses in the music world: Country music legend Glen Campbell (81) and Broadway performer Barbara Cook (89) passed away today. I was a regular viewer of Campbell's musical variety show in the 1970s. RIP.
(6) Today is International Cat Day: Our local TV channel, KEYT, celebrates with, what else, cat videos.
(7) The scarred face of a hockey goalie, before masks became mandatory equipment. [Photo]
(8) Leaker-in-Chief: Fox News reported a story containing classified intelligence on US spy satellites detecting movement of anti-ship cruise missiles onto N. Korean patrol boats. President Trump, rather than asking who the leaker was and advocating punishment, tweeted a link to the Fox News story. Ambassador Nikki Haley, on the other hand, refused to discuss the matter with Fox News, on account of it being classified.
[P.S.: The classification and declassification process is dictated by an executive order, which is updated from time to time. Here is the latest version of that executive order.]
(9) A predictable pattern: As usual, Trump has not said a word about the mosque attack in Minnesota. Fortunately, even though worshipers were in the building when a bomb was thrown in through a window, no one was injured. One of Trump's advisers actually said that the attack may have been faked.

2017/08/07 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Newsweek magazine cover, showing Trump sitting on a Lazy Boy recliner (1) Newsweek magazine cover, issue of August 11, 2017.
(2) Northwestern University professor accused of murder.
(3) Smartphones and the future of the young generation: There is increasing evidence that heavy use of smartphones (2 hours a day or more) has a negative impact on young people's mental health. The author of this article in The Atlantic was interviewed on today's PBS Newshour. Girls seem to be affected more than boys. While more detailed studies and controlled experiments are needed, the preliminary signs are unmistakable.
(4) It's the Republicans' turn to be targeted by Russian bots: What goes around comes around!
(5) Google execs denounce engineer's memo attributing gender inequality to biological differences: Both the VP of diversity and engineering VP have criticized the engineer's stereotyping and incorrect assumptions.
(6) Fake news is about to become photo-realistic: Researchers have figured out a method of making fake videos that appear super-realistic. Fake news of the future will be much harder to detect!
(7) Trump may be building a casino in Macau: South China Morning Post reports that DTTM Operations LLC, a Delaware-based company affiliated with the president, filed four trademark applications in Macau under the Trump name, one of which was for gambling and casino services and facilities.
(8) Yesterday in Fiesta events: After spending some time with visiting friends from the SF Bay Area, I attended some Fiesta performances at Paseo Nuevo Mall's outdoors stage. Later in the afternoon, I attended a "Spanish-flavored" concert by the West Coast Symphony Orchestra at SB Courthouse's Sunken Garden.
- Instrumental music performance at Paseo Nuevo Mall.
- A short sample of West Coast Symphony Orchestra's Fiesta concert.
[When I returned home, I found this exotic visitor in my courtyard! I had begun the process of seeking help from the Wildlife Care Network (suggested by non-emergency police dispatch), when it quietly moved away.]
(9) Final thought for the day: Love thy neighbors; not just your English-speaking, highly skilled, rich, self-supporting neighbors but all of them.

2017/08/05 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Iranian women walking near a mosque in Shiraz US price list for selected itens in 1938 Hanging play cage for children from the late 1930s (1) [Left] Iranian women show their colors (and style) in Shiraz!
[Center] The good old days: Some data points for cost of living in the US eight decades ago.
[Right] History in pictures: Baby cage from 1937, for families who did not have outdoors play areas.
(2) Quote of the day: "Give me your wealthy, your rich, your huddled MBAs yearning to be tax-free, your English-speaking, fully insured, to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door! And lift my leg upon your filthy poor. P.S.: No fatties, please." ~ Stephen Colbert
(3) Kurdish territories in Iran and other countries of the Middle East in the first half of the 20th century: This first slide show focuses on Jews and Jewish traditions of the region. And this second slide show features Kurdish fashions from the region for the same time period.
(4) Two interesting photos: Drive-in movie theater, from 1955, and the amazing tree that refuses to die, bringing to mind the words of Jeff Goldblum's character in "Jurassic Park," that life finds a way!
(5) Obama impersonator says some of the things Trump has said: The Real Obama would have been lynched, believe me! Bill Maher turning facts into brilliant comedy, as usual.
(6) Cartoon of the day: Disappointing moments in evolution. [By John Atkinson] [Image]
(7) The embarrassing way in which Iranian members of parliament competed to take photos with Federica Mogherini: The same men, who deem Iranian women incapable of holding leadership positions, salivate over a powerful, blonde, blue-eyed foreign woman. The accompanying Persian text is a satirical take on what Mogrini might write in her memoirs about how she was treated by Iran's male politicians.
(8) Half-dozen brief items of note.
- Smart folks: Rather than standing in line, they sit down and let their shoes keep their places in line.
- A teacher explains and demonstrates how Hellen Keller (also shown in this video) learned to speak.
- Castle Bazaar in Guilan, Iran. [Photo]
- A wonderful a cappella performance: Iran's Damour Vocal Band performs music from memorable cartoons.
- Simon and Gurfunkel reunited after many years to play "The Sound of Silence," sounding as good as ever.
- "Millennial Song": Different lyrics on Beatles' "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" [3-minute video]
(9) Fiesta celebrations in Santa Barbara: There were musical offerings, dance routines, jovial crowds, colorful costumes, and lots of exotic foods at the historic De La Guerra Plaza and performances at the center stage of the Paseo Nuevo shopping mall.
[10 photos] [Music video] [Group dance 1] [Group dance 2] [Solo dance] [The T-shirt I wore]

2017/08/04 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Trump and Obama talking about the White House Cartoon, showing Santa playing Scarbble with hie reindeer The Titanic compared with a modern cruise ship (1) [Left] Two different views of the White House, from Presidents Trump and Obama.
[Middle] Cartoon of the day: Santa's dilemma in a game of Scrabble with his reindeer.
[Right] The Titanic compared with a modern cruise ship.
(2) Salem and Madras in Oregon are among the best places to watch the upcoming total solar eclipse: I won't be very far from these places on August 21, 2017, as I plan to watch the eclipse from Corvallis, Oregon, the site of Oregon State University (I will also visit Portland and Seattle during the same trip). As they say, it's killing two birds with one stone or, in Persian, "ham faal o ham tamaashaa": experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime event and rekindling memories from 1969-1970, when I was studying for a master's degree in computer engineering at OSU. If you can't experience this event directly, then do the next best thing: follow the eclipse with NASA. This NASA site has detailed state-by-state maps of the upcoming total solar eclipse, safety instruction for watching, and a wealth of other information.
(3) A heart-warming TEDx talk: A successful professional woman, nicknamed "Mother Parisa" at work for her caring ways, shares her experiences at home with her autistic son Payam, who found his voice when he was presented with a letter-board communication device. Ms. Khosravi generalizes at the end, noting that we all have muffled voices and must find our metaphorical letter-boards that would allow us to speak up.
(4) An effective TEDx-Tehran talk (in Persian): Lili Golestan, famed translator and art gallery owner, talks about the challenges she faced as the daughter of an authoritarian, aloof, and disparaging dad, as the wife of a non-committed husband whom she adored, and, eventually, as a single mother of 3 in a misogynistic society. For her, success is something she wanted to happen, so it did!
(5) History in pictures: So, you think new technology is making us anti-social?[Photo]
(6) Congressional Republicans are turning against Trump: In my opinion, even if they do help oust Trump, they should be held accountable for the damage already done, including their yes votes for Trumpcare and their complicity in sabotaging Obamacare.
(7) On curbing legal immigration: Stephen Miller, the young anti-immigrant face of the Trump campaign and administration is the great-grandson of refugee Wolf Lieb Glotzer and his wife, Bessie, who arrived in the US in 1903, after fleeing a dreary life in Antopol, Belarus. Wolf was eventually joined by his son Natan and his brother Moses, who had arrived earlier, having escaped conscription in the czar's army.
(8) A Persian poem written and recited by Noushin Moeini Kermanshahi. [Video]
(9) Commander-in-Cheat fact of the day: Donald Trump's mother, Mary Anne McLeod, immigrated to the US (some say illegally) in 1929. Daughter of a fisherman, with no wealth or marketable skills, McLeod married builder Fred Trump in 1936 and was naturalized in 1942. [Fact check]

2017/08/03 (Thursday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Cover image for Harper Lee's 'Go Set a Watchman' (1) Book review: Lee, Harper, Go Set a Watchman, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Reese Witherspoon, Harper Audio, 2015.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book, designated as volume 2 in the "To Kill a Mockingbird" series, was published not long before the author's death in 2016. Atticus Finch, the attorney of the highly-acclaimed 1960 novel by Lee (set in the 1930s Alabama), is a character in this novel, as are his daughter Scout (now known as Jean Louise, who is back home from NYC for a visit), his brother Dr. Jack, other members of his family, Jean Louise's boyfriend Henry Clinton, and a black servant.
It was a treat to hear the book in the sweet voice of Oscar-winning actress Reese Witherspoon, an avid book reader herself: "I get crazy in a bookstore. It makes my heart beat hard because I want to buy everything." Here is another of Witherspoon's memorable quotes: "It's funny that it all becomes about clothes. It's bizarre. You work your butt off and then you win an award and it's all about your dress. You can't get away from it." Now, back to the book itself!
The story's surprise (not a spoiler, given that it is widely known already) is that the honorable, conscientious Atticus Finch of "Mockingbird," now in his 70s in the 1950s Alabama, is revealed to be a racist and segregationist, lashing out against the US Supreme Court and its Brown-v.-Board-of-Education decision. This dark side of Atticus Finch, contrasted with his daughter's color-blindness, is the main source of tension and drama in the story.
Jean Louise, who once looked up to her dad and saw him as an absolute role model, now barely recognizes the old man that he has become. An intense argument between the two, near the end of the book, is filled with raw emotions and is quite effective, especially as read to us by Witherspoon. The outcome of the race-related argument, and its eventual resolution, is better left untold in this review.
Interestingly, "Watchman," as originally written in the late 1950s, was an early draft of "Mockingbird." Lee's editor asked her for a rewrite of the draft, putting greater focus on Scout's girlhood some two decades earlier. Lee then reportedly spent two years to transform the draft into "Mockingbird," a vastly different story, with a different outcome for its now-famous trial of a black man for raping a white woman.
For those who grew up to love the Atticus character in "Mockingbird," his racist version in "Watchman" is a bit hard to swallow. The same holds for the different messages of compassion separated by two decades in story time and by some 5.5 decades in author's life. The compassion counseled is for outsiders in "Mockingbird" and for bigots in "Watchman." In this sense, Lee's new old book serves a useful purpose: to make us think about the humanity of racists and for their need for love and understanding.
(2) History in pictures: Hoover Dam (then known as Boulder Dam) under construction in 1936. The thickness of the base and the amount of concrete used to build it are mind-boggling. [Photo]
(3) Trump sounds like a kid trying to write a book report on a book he hasn't read! [Quotes]
(4) Iran's Uber-like ride-sharing service already has 5M registered riders, 100K drivers, and 500 employees.
(5) Half-dozen science, technology, and education news headlines of the day:
- Scientists repair disease-causing genetic mutation in embryos using CRISPR (CBS News)
- DoJ downplays report of university affirmative action policies being under scrutiny (NYT)
- Neural networks are transforming the field of automatic translation (IT Pro)
- Energy-efficient image retouching system developed for smartphones (MIT News)
- 3D printing could save auto industry billions in product development (Automotive News)
- Neutrinos seen scattering off an atom's nucleus for the first time (ScienceNews)
(6) Final thought for the day: The Secret Service sets up a mobile command post near Trump Tower, because they could not come to an agreement with the Trump Organization regarding rent and other conditions of operating from within the Tower. Chew on that for a sec: The Secret Service has to pay rent to Trump for the privilege of protecting him!

2017/08/02 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
The bettterment of human condition over the past two centuries (1) Accentuate the positive: As anxious as we may be about our world and its many problems, let's not forget how far we have come over the course of human history and, particularly, during the past two centuries.
(2) Unbelievable cruelty: Father confesses to killing son and burying his body near Cachuma Lake in Santa Barbara County, because his wife was divorcing him.
(3) UCSB ranked third in the world in the field of automation and control. [2017 Shanghai ranking]
(4) History in pictures: Child workers, before labor laws. Guess old America wasn't so great!
(5) Sara Zahedi wins a prestigious math prize in Europe: The Iranian-Sweideh scientist was recognized for her work on improving computer simulations of the behavior of fluids that don't mix together. She is the only woman among the 10 young recipients of the award that is given out once every four years.
(6) Trump calls the White House "a real dump": Guess what turned it from a revered residence to a dump?
(7) Today's Google doodle celebrates Dolores del Rio, a Mexican actress who became successful in the Hollywood of the 1920s and 1930s.
(8) Russia seems to be baiting Donald Trump: After Trump signed the Congress' sanctions bill, apparently with disdain and while blasting the Congress, Russia's PM characterized the bill as "a humiliating defeat for Trump," words that are sure to trigger Trump's Twitter fingers. Let's watch!
(9) The James Bond summer film series continues: Tonight, I watched "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" at UCSB's Campbell Hall. With George Lazenby playing the title character, this was the first film in the series that does not feature Sean Connery, and it was shown just tonight, due to La Fiesta happening this week at the Courthouse Sunken Garden. The cheesy dialog full of double-entendres (common to almost all Bond movies) aside, the film had some interesting chase scenes involving cars, skis, jetskis, and even luges. During one of the ski chase scenes, James bond and his female companion get caught in an avalanche, with the special effects being excellent for 1969, when the film was released.

2017/08/01 (Tuesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
History in pictures: Holocaust wedding rings Maryam Mirzakhani depicted as text and math formulas Cartoon by Iranian artist Mana Neyestani (1) Images above, from left to right: Holocaust wedding rings; Azam Rahbari's wonderful depiction of the late Professor and Fields Medalist Maryam Mirzakhani; Mana Neyestani's cartoon, depicting Rouhani's cabinet being introduced to Iran's Supreme Leader on a catwalk, with Minister of Justice strutting by.
(2) Good news on the education front: Number of women and other under-represented minorities taking AP Computer Science nearly tripled between 2016 and 2017.
(3) Tech history in pictures: This photo, suposedly depicting very young Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in June 1973 appeared on Twitter, and I reposted and retweeted it. Later, I was informed by a friend that the duo looked like this in the 1970s. Maybe the guys in the first photo are just a couple of teens playing games.
(4) Funny immigrant Maz Jobrani does stand-up: Why children of immigrants don't want their parents at school events, and other tragic stories made into comedy.
(5) Today in Trump and other political news headlines, from various sources:
- Humor-challenged pres: Not the first time he's used "I was just kidding" to explain a misguided statement.
- Accuser of fake-news media sued for helping spread a fake story on Fox News.
- E-mail prankster successfully tricks several White House officials, before raising any suspicion.
- Republicans in need of "miracle" to pass legislation, despite controlling all three branches of government.
- Donald Trump played a direct role in crafting an explanation to mislead the public about his son's meeting with several Russians bearing damaging info about Hillary Clinton on behalf of the Russian government.
- Trump has a tendency to repeat, when he has no idea what he's talking about: "We will handle North Korea. We are gonna be able to handle them. It will be handled. We handle everything." ~ The Handler-in-Chief
(6) How to stop robots if they run wild and threaten humans: The story of Facebook having to shut down an AI program because it was getting too smart (it developed its own language) turned out to be one of those media fabrications. If robots ever actually threaten us humans, however, a friend's suggestion may come in handy: Simply teach them to speak Persian and let them 'taarof' each other to death!
(7) Alphabet researchers want to store electricity as thermal energy in molten salt and cold liquids.
(8) Final thought for the day: It bothers me to no end that the childish, knee-jerk, and superficial way Trump sees his role as POTUS is being excused by his supporters, who euphemistically call him a "transactional president," as if his is an equally valid, alternative way to act as the leader of the only superpower on earth.

2017/07/31 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Persian goodies in snack-size packs (1) Persian goodies readied in snack-size packages: I bought these three items yesterday from Super Sun (Westwood Blvd., south of Santa Monica Blvd., in West Los Angeles), which has the best roasted watermelon seeds that I have found.
(2) Dr. Nayereh Tohidi writes about Professor and Fields Medalist Maryam Mirzakhani from the perspective of gender & development studies. [Persian article]
(3) After years of battling written and unwritten misogynistic laws, Tunisian women have been granted full equality with men by a law that just passed their parliament.
(4) Women should not laugh in public: This proclamation by Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister has generated posts of women laughing in protest on social media.
(5) Chalk one up for academic integrity: "Disturbed by the many invitations to become editors or reviewers for publications outside their field, researchers at the University of Sussex launched a sting ... , starting with the nom de plume of their fake Polish scholar, Anna O. Szust. The word oszust means fraud in Polish. Armed with fictional credentials from phony universities and a publishing record of nonexistent book chapters, 'Dr. Fraud' applied for editorships at 360 randomly selected open-access journals. Forty-eight offered her a job, the researchers reported recently in Nature. ... Given the pressure on academics to publish, this 'organized industry' seems likely to continue to bilk the naive and undermine genuine academic publishing. As for Anna O. Szust, despite withdrawing her application, her name remains on the editorial boards listed on at least 11 journals' websites, including one to which she never applied." [Source: ASEE Prism magazine, issue of September 2017]
(6) Quote of the day: "Much has been made of the dark web's dangers, but democracy has more to fear from Citizens United and the global surveillance Industry than Silk Road or Tor." ~ Hal Berghel, writing in the July 2017 issue of IEEE Computer magazine
(7) On teaching vs. research: "For students, good teaching is key to understanding and unlocking a promising future. For career academicians, we must grapple with our role's innate duality: through teaching we affect the future, but through research we best secure our own." ~ Sorel Reisman, writing in the July 2017 issue of IEEE Computer magazine [Access to full text requires subscription]
(8) The incredible shrinking airline seats: A judge has asked FAA to set minimum standards for airliner seats. Seat dimensions and spacing, as well as the aisle width, have been shown to directly impact safety and speed during emergency evacuations. Currently, such evacuations take too long, owing to cramped seating.
(9) Final thought for the day: Paris will host the 2024 summer Olympics and Los Angeles the 2028 games. This is the third time LA hosts the Olympics, after the 1932 and 1984 games.

2017/07/30 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Einstein shown at a blackboard (1) History in pictures: Albert Einstein as a professor (1931).
(2) We have a long way to go to democracy and pluralism in Iran: I came across this Facebook status post by chance. Using a slur to refer to Jews, it advocates mass killings of Jews and Baha'is in the next Iranian revolution. My reason for posting it is to reiterate my often-made argument that a peaceful transition to democracy may be impossible in Iran. There are just too many groups that are planning revenge killings, for real and imagined grievances. I hope the profile is fake and does not belong to a real person; I've covered the photo and name, just in case.
(3) Young, good-looking Iranian operatives are on the hunt for certain Iranian men on Facebook: Mia Ash (most likely a pseudonym) is evasive about her relationship status, and very likely, she is a he. S/He has been caught sending infected files to unsuspecting men.
(4) Tehran's Friday Prayers Leader takes on women who oppose mandatory hijab laws through white-scarf Wednesdays: At no time in human history have men wielding absolute power been so scared of a piece of clothing or lack thereof!
(5) Peggy Noonan's opinion piece in WSJ hits Trump where it hurts most: She characterizes him as Woody Allen, without the humor. "He's not strong and self-controlled, not cool and tough, not low-key and determined; he's whiny, weepy and self-pitying. He throws himself, sobbing, on the body politic. He's a drama queen."
(6) A few brief items from news sources and posts on social media:
- A follow-up to my post about the demise of shopping malls, this time a piece from NYT.
- Hidden-camera elevator prank: A light-hearted post for your smelling pleasure, and a break from politics!
- Science teachers battling anti-science celebrities and other fake-news sources. [NPR story]
- Fifteen electric guitarists play Bach, with amazing results! [9-minute video]
- An old Persian song, covered by Leila Marvdashti, accompanied by an all-female band. Wonderful!
- Elon Musk hands over the keys to the first 30 Model 3 electric vehicles at Tesla launch event.
(7) What is Jared Kushner up to? This source may not be entirely objective, but it does make several valid points. It's interesting that Kushner is involved in politics at the highest levels, without speaking on any issue that he is working on. He is supposedly in charge of peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, yet he has not uttered a single word on the recent escalation of conflict in Jerusalem, either directly or through his father-in-law. He has reportedly had a Twitter account for 8 years and has yet to post a single tweet.
(8) Republicans are starting to speak up: And Trump's tweetstorm criticizing the GOP will certainly not help him with this group. The ousted Reince Priebus has so far kept his mouth shut and Trump has tried to buy his silence by a few halfhearted compliments. But I see a book coming pretty soon!
(9) My adventures today: I made a day trip to West Los Angeles, visiting an ailing uncle, photographing the recently installed Freedom Sculpture (on the median of Santa Monica Blvd., at the entrance to Century City), buying Persian books and groceries, having lunch and visiting UCLA's Hammer Museum with a UCLA colleague, and getting together with a couple of college buddies, my daughter in tow.

2017/07/29 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cover image for Carlo Rovelli's 'Seven Brief Lessons on Physics' (1) Book review: Rovelli, Carlo, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, Penguin Audio, 2016.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This isn't really a book, but a long (2-hour) lecture. Rovelli presents a vivid picture of the main achievements of physics and the most vexing problems that remain unexplained. The seven lessons, adapted from the author's columns in an Italian newspaper, are on:
- General theory of relativity ("the most beautiful theory," which tells us that gravity and space/time are one and the same)
- The quanta (quantum mechanics tells us that energy isn't a continuum, but comes in discrete packets or lumps)
- The architecture of the cosmos (the universe contains billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars, all floating in space)
- Particles (the universe is primarily made up of electrons, quarks, making up other subatomic particles, gluons, and photons)
- Grains of space (general relativity and quantum mechanics are contradictory; quantum gravity tries to reconcile the two)
- Probability, time, and the heat of black holes (what are time and heat, and does time really exist?)
- In closing: Ourselves (the beauty and complexity of human body and mind, and how we fit into the picture)
Whether you already know something about these topics or are learning about them for the first time, this lecture is bound to offer something of value to you. It is a concise summary of what we know about our universe and where we are headed in our explorations. In the author's words, we are still in a fog, but the fog is beginning to clear.
The enthusiastic tone of the first six lessons is moderated by this observation in the final one: "I believe that our species will not last long. It does not seem to be made of the stuff that has allowed the turtle, for example, to continue to exist more or less unchanged for hundreds of millions of years, for hundreds of times longer, that is, than we have been in existence. We belong to a short-lived genus of species. All our cousins are already extinct. What's more, we do damage."
(2) Dr. Nayereh Tohidi's 25-minute lecture (in Persian), elaborating on Professor Maryam Mirzakhani's legacy, particularly her impact on women's rights and her status as a role model for greater engagement of women in STEM fields.
(3) The three Republicans who saved healthcare for millions of Americans: I don't know what John McCain's calculations were, but Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) stood up for what they thought was right at immense personal risks. Trump and his Interior Secretary let Murkowski know in no uncertain terms that her no vote will endanger Alaska's federal infrastructure funds. It is inappropriate to threaten withdrawal of federal funding in order to force party-line vote on other issues. Congress may investigate these threats.
(4) Please help! I am trying to decipher this statement from our president: "But the biggest strength we have are these horrendous trade deals, like with China. That's our strength. But we're going to fix them. But in terms of North Korea, our strength is trade." I must admit that he has done a good job of fixing our strengths so far!
(5) US opens a massive $11 billion military base in South Korea: The new base, one of the largest construction projects by the US military, is located in the middle of the South Korean countryside, a safe distance from North Korea's artillery range.
(6) Three key challenges of computer engineering in the next decade result from increased thermal densities: Intense heat in a circuit not only creates cooling nightmares, but also shortens the circuit's useful life and intensifies reliability problems that are already quite severe, given process variations in extremely dense chips. [Source: Page 12 of the July 2017 issue of IEEE Computer magazine]
(7) Science and technology news from the past couple of days:
- Sixteen robotics research teams working on automated box-packing robots for Amazon: The company also runs the annual Amazon Robotics Challenge, a contest for robots to push the boundaries of robot capabilities.
- Moon's interior may contain vast water deposits: Brown University researchers have reached this conclusion by measuring reflecting light from a recent picture of the moon's surface. If true, travel to the moon and back, and statying there for a while, may become much easier.
- Amazon's patent filing hints at its interest in augmented-reality shopping via smartphones: If shop on-line for a watch or bracelet, and you want to see how it'll look around your wrist, you'd point your smartphone camera at your hand, and an augmented-reality app will show you the item superimposed on the camera video.
- Virtual Singapore: The city-state is developing a $73M, 360-degree digital model that will contain hard data about structures, roads, parking lots, and even trees. It is slated to go live by the end of this year.
(8) The glass stadium: Designed to give the spectators the feeling of sitting outdoors, the US Bank Stadium, home to the Minnesota Vikings, has been criticized for its negative impact (many birds migrating between Canada and the US crash into its glass walls). Studies are underway to see if the stadium's impact on migrating birds can be mitigated.
(9) Final thought for the day: What's the rush? Let the train pass completely before crossing the train tracks!

2017/07/28 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Behrooz Parhami's Twitter home page (1) I have joined Twitter (@BehroozParhami), where I plan to focus on science, technology, and equal rights. Part of my motivation to join was the fact that Twitter has become the official US government communications channel, and I didn't want to be left out!
(2) When Trump (jokingly?) said in Ohio that he deserves to be on Mount Rushmore, Twitterspace went wild! Reactions included this image posted by J. D. Weinfeld, @RocketCat88.
(3) Facebook partners with Snopes and other fact-checking entities: Facebook users will flag suspicious stories, which are sent to Snopes.com and other fact-checkers once they collect a sufficient number of flags. Meanwhile, Snopes is facing internal turmoil owing to squabbles over control between the original founder and others who bought shares from his ex-wife co-founder.
(4) Eight brief news headlines of the past couple of days:
- Three killed by wrong-way driver going 100 MPH in Ventura: The crash occurred on southbound 101 Freeway.
- Third train fatality of last week in SB County: Woman unexpectedly steps in front of train at Goleta station.
- US soccer squeaks by Jamaica 2-1 on a late goal to win the CONCACAF Gold Cup
- Nearly all pro football players, and many younger players, suffer brain damage, study finds
- UK to ban sale of new gasoline and diesel engines by 2040; France announced a similar plan 3 weeks ago
- LGBT champion Ivanka Trump eerily quiet on her father's ban of transgenders in US military
- US Justice Department assaults LGBTQ rights, arguing that a landmark civil rights act does not protect gays
- Extrajudicial killings of ISIS members and sympathizers by "revenge" death squads rampant in Mosul
(5) Cartoon of the day: Trump helping old lady Medicaid cross the street. [Image]
(6) BCS celebrates its 60-year history: The summer 2017 of British Computer Society's magazine, IT Now, reviews the first half (1957-1986) of this history by recalling interesting items that have appeared in the magazine. This IBM ad is from 1957, when the magazine was called Computer Bulletin.
(7) Quote of the day: "Jeff Sessions urges Melania to work harder on campaign to stop cyberbullying." ~ Andy Borowitz, humor columnist for The New Yorker
(8) Obamacare "skinny repeal" failed 49-51 in the US Senate, ending GOP's quest to fulfill a key campaign promise, seven years running. John McCain was the no vote that defeated the bill (two GOP no votes were known ahead of time). Trump's reaction tweet came earlier than I expected: "3 Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down. As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!" He will continue sabotaging US healthcare, just to prove he was right. Hoping the Congress stops him. This isn't a game; people's lives are at stake!
(9) Final concert in the park for this summer: Captain Cardiac and the Coronaries performed at Chase Palm Park last evening, with dancing fairies providing part of the entertainment during intermission. [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3] [Video 4]

Cover image for Terrence W. Deacon's 'The Symbolic Species' 2017/07/27 (Thursday): Book review: Deacon, Terrence W., The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain, W. W. Norton, 1997.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This impressive book by an imminently qualified brain specialist, who also displays a firm grasp of language acquisition mechanisms and associated disorders, is structured in three parts, each having 4-6 chapters (see the table of contents at the end of this review). At 525 pages, each packed with information, it isn't an easy read but persevering pays out handsomely at the end. One appealing feature of the book is its many helpful diagrams and charts.
Deacon begins Chapter 1 with this wonderful quote from Soren Kierkergaard: "[T]he paradox is the source of the thinker's passion, and the thinker without a paradox is like a lover without feeling: a paltry mediocrity."
Deacon's thesis is that a sort of grammar mechanism is hardwired into the human brain, which accounts for the facility with which we learn language. Other species, by contrast, have a very hard time doing so. Many species do develop sophisticated communication systems, but the symbolic nature of human languages, with its immense representational power, is missing from all such schemes. The figure below shows three oft-cited examples of animal communication systems possessing elements that can be likened to a vocabulary. But these systems lack the generality of human language, which requires "symbolic competence" for understanding.
Three species with sophisticated communication skills Having stated his thesis clearly and forcefully, Deacon sets out to methodically describe and argue for the supporting evidence. One key observation is that we should avoid the illusion of progress toward understanding human language acquisition mechanism that results from using more and more precise terminology for what we don't know, rather than actually discovering what is missing. "Linguists have progressively redefined what supposedly cannot be learned in ever more formal and precise terms, and so we may have the feeling that these accounts are approaching closer and closer to an explanation." I have been bothered by a similar phenomenon in astrophysics, where gaps in our knowledge are filled with ill-defined notions such as dark matter, which is, in effect, a way of increasing the mass available in the universe in order to balance our equations, without adding understanding as to why the discrepancy exists to begin with.
In the course of human evolution, language and thinking have become virtually inseparable. "The way that language represents objects, events, and relationships provides a uniquely powerful economy of reference. It offers a means for generating an essentially infinite variety of novel representations, and an unprecedented inferential engine for predicting events, organizing memories, and planning behaviors. It entirely shapes our thinking and the ways we know the physical world. It is so pervasive and inseparable from human intelligence in general that it is difficult to distinguish what aspects of the human intellect have not been molded and streamlined by it."
The reproductive advantages of better language skills are rather obvious, explaining the evolutionary path for human language. Language skills help cooperative behaviors, such the the ability to pass on information about distant food supplies or organizing labor for a hunt. They also lead to more successful social manipulation and deception, such as misleading one's competitors. In fact, it is quite difficult to imagine any human endeavor that would not benefit from better communication.
Despite catchy chapter titles and mostly informal style of writing, this is no popularized science book. Many passages are taxing and require concentration. Nonetheless, the book has my highest recommendation for those who seek to understand human communication and the mechanisms that have evolved over millions of years to support it.
I end this review by listing the book's table of contents.
[One: Language] 1. The Human Paradox. 2. A Loss for Words. 3. Symbols Aren't Simple. 4. Outside the Brain
[Two: Brain] 5. The Size of Intelligence. 6. Growing Apart. 7. A Darwinian Electrician. 8. The Talking Brain. 9. Symbol Minds. 10. Locating Language.
[Three: Co-Evolution] 11. And the Word Became Flesh. 12. Symbolic Origins. 13. A Serendipitous Mind. 14. Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made on.
Notes (19 pp.), Additional Reading (4 pp.), Bibliography (22 pp.), Index (17 pp.).

2017/07/26 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Woman saying no to mandatory hijab laws in Iran Teddy bear and doll leaving dejectedly Photo of young and old hands together (1) Images above, from left to right: No to mandatory hijab [Image credit: Masih Alinejad on Instagram]; Cartoon of the day; Generations.
(2) Sima Bina sings an Iranian folk song in Germany.
(3) Iranian TV program introducing Tehran's Book Garden, the world's largest bookstore: One must add to this description the fact that every book on display at this impressive complex must be government-approved.
(4) The Rosenberg boys: Now in their 70s, Michael and Robbie are the sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the spies who were executed in 1953 for passing atomic bomb secrets to the Soviet Union. Their story is heartbreaking. No family member was willing to take care of them, fearing retribution, so they were sent to an orphanage. As adults, they made it their life goal to prove their parents' innocence. Later, they came to the conclusion that their father had indeed been a spy recruiter, but that their mother, though an accessory, had been framed based on false testimony so as to be given the death sentence. [25-minute CBS video]
(5) The good old days: Pan Am 747 economy-class seating in the 1960s.
(6) Neuron and galaxy networks are similar from an information-theoretic viewpoint: "Despite extraordinary differences in substrate, physical mechanisms, and size, the human neuronal network and the cosmic web of galaxies, when considered with the tools of information theory, are strikingly similar."
(7) Scientists turn frustration into political action: Researchers have traditionally eschewed politics, but with Trump administration's hostility toward science, a new brand of Democratic candidates is emerging. Former New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt, a physicist and now chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, indicates that he is fielding more calls from scientists considering running for public office. [Source: Politico] [Rallying cry of scientists-turned-activists: Science not Silence]
(8) Fully electric airplanes are coming: Within 10 years, Wright Electric, a Massachusetts-based start-up, wants to sell electric aircraft that carry 150 passengers on journeys of less than 300 miles, using swappable modular batteries that permit multiple flights per day without recharging. Short-haul flights make up 30 percent of the global market, a chunk valued at $26 billion. Electric jets would be both cheaper and cleaner; EPA estimates that aircraft contribute 8% of all greenhouse gases emitted by America's transportation. [Source: ASEE Prism magazine, issue of September 2017]
(9) Summer film series continues: The 1967 film "You Only Live Twice" was screened at UCSB's Campbell Hall tonight as the fourth entry in the James Bond film series. This was the the last of four films shown this summer that feature Sean Connery.

2017/07/25 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Iranian healthcare for the rich/powerful and for the poor (1) Cartoon of the day: Helathcare options for Iranians; top mullahs vs. the rank and file.
(2) Amazon is completing F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished novel: Published in 1941, a year after his death, The Last Tycoon showed all the signs of a rough, unfinished work. Amozon's TV series is much more polished, but it shows little resemblance to the book on which it is purportedly based. [Source: Time magazine, issue of July 31, 2017]
(3) The International Olympiad in Informatics returns to Tehran for its 29th edition. (July 28 to August 4, 2017)
(4) The first hyperloop super-fast transport gets verbal go-ahead for connecting New York, Washington, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. The NYC-Washington travel time is estimated to be around 30 minutes.
(5) US Navy ship fires warning shots at Iranian boat in Persian Gulf.
(6) Trump's embarrassing speech to a large gathering of boy scouts: Instead of inspiring them with talk of honesty and trustworthiness, he attacks the press, opponents of his healthcare (I mean, tax cut) bill, and Obama, and elaborates on the life of a businessman who did wild stuff on his yacht.
(7) The death of the shopping mall: As America's malls close down, they take with them not only stores but a good chunk of the American culture. The first enclosed mall in the US, the Southdale Center of Edina, MN, was built in 1956. Mall-building peaked just after the opening of the 4.2M square-foot Mall of America in 1992, reaching the rate of one mall every 2.5 days in the mid 1990s. Shortly afterwards, Amazon and Netflix started the on-line business revolution, leading by the early 2010s to a rapid decline in mall visits. Sears' and K-mart's store closings were followed by downsizing of other brick-and-mortar businesses, as Amazon's share prices soared. [Source: Time magazine, issue of July 31, 2017]
(8) The secret history of the 2016 US election: President Obama came close to calling out the military to guard the vote from a Russian hack. Many reports were coming in that people going to the polls could not vote because their voter registration data had been tampered with and, in quite a few cases, it was verified that hackers had accessed and modified the data. One week before Election Day, the White House went as far as plan for widespread disruptions during actual voting. One unfortunate side effect of the Russian hacking will be diminished confidence of American voters in the integrity of the election process. As new information indicates that the Russian meddling was more serious than initially thought, voter confidence will erode even further. According to post-election studies, the voting systems of 39 states showed forensic evidence of scanning and at least 20 were determined to have been compromised. [Source: Time magazine, issue of July 31, 2017]
(9) Final thought for the day: Must try to remember that the best response to fools is silence. [I keep this English saying, and its nearly identical Persian version, in front of me, to counteract the temptation of responding in kind to certain individuals.]

2017/07/24 (Monday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Image: Guide to the Oxymoron Museum (1) Guide to the Oxymoron Museum. [By John Atkinson]
(2) Live-streaming of Sharif Univ. of Technology Assoc.'s memorial for Professor Maryam Mirzakhani: The 2.5-hour proceedings begin at the 10:30 mark of this video.
(3) Hundreds of climate scientists are taking Emmanuel Macron up on his offer of employment in France.
(4) Ceramic implant provides a window into the brain: Developed in a collaboration between Mexican and US scientists (undeterred by talks of a wall and other barriers), the implant helps prevent frequent removals of a portion of the skull to allow the use of a laser beam to treat cancer and traumatic brain injuries.
(5) Here are half-dozen brief international news stories from Time magazine's issue of July 31, 2017:
- Six activists jailed in Turkey: Those imprisoned for alleged links to a terrorist group include Amnesty International's local director.
- A low-caste farmer's son to become India's 14th president: Ran Nath Kovind of the Bharatiya Janata Party is a member of the lowest rung of the Hindu caste hierarchy, historically opposed by higher-caste Hindus. Kovind's presidency is expected to help PM Modi's re-election bid in 2019.
- Iran sentences US graduate student for spying: Xiyue Wang's 10-year sentence was said to result from his "spying under the cover of research" for his dissertation.
- The woman who was photographed wearing a miniskirt in one of Saudi Arabia's conservative towns has been arrested for violating the kingdom's dress code.
- Abuse of German choir boys rampant: Investigation shows that at least 547 members of a Catholic boys' choir in Regensburg, Germany, were physically or sexually abused by church members over seven decades.
- Acid attacks have become a brutal new trend in the UK: Unlike in south Asia, where victims of acid attacks are mostly women, in the UK, two-thirds of the victims have been men, and there is no obvious pattern for law enforcement to use in formulating a response plan.
(6) Here are half-dozen brief Trump-related news stories from various sources:
- Trump lashing out at Republicans in a 2017/07/23 tweet: "It's very sad that Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back, do very little to protect their President."
- Trump's business ties to Russia: If a reporter with limited reach into the practices of money-laundering shell companies can unveil so much dirt, imagine how much more the special counsel will discover!
- Forgive our president's grammar in this tweet dissing Jeff Sessions, for he is quite nervous about where the Russia investigations are going: Exposing not just political collusion but also decades of financial dealings with oligarchs and mobsters, who laundered their money through the Trump Organization. It's difficult to sympathize with Jeff Sessions, but talk about back-stabbing a staunch supporter to try to save your own behind!
- WH Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci quotes an anonymous source on TV: The source is later revealed to be Trump himself! Yes, it is absolutely true that the current US President, a former presidential candidate, a rich businessman, a real-estate developer, and a former reality-TV star all think that the Russia probe is a witch hunt!
- Rex Tillerson may quit before the end of the year: He is said to be increasingly frustrated over Trump's unprofessional treatment of AG Jeff Sessions. He has also run into troubles of his own for having violated Russia sanctions while serving as CEO of Exxon Mobil.
- Watch Obama pull out facts and figures to answer Anthony Scaramucci's questions during what appears to be a town hall meeting.
(7) Today's GRIT talk: Speaking at UCSB's Hatlen Theater, Professor Mike Mahan (biology; affiliated with UCSB since 1993) presented an interesting talk entitled "People Aren't Petri Dishes: Why Antibiotics Fail" as the final installment of the summer session's series of public lectures. I will miss these wonderful lectures for the rest of the summer, until normal academic seminars resume in fall.
We have all heard of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, the so-called "super-bugs." Since the invention of penicillin in 1929, we have made enormous progress in discovering new and highly effective antibiotics. As we discover new antibiotics, bugs discover, through normal evolutionary adaptation, ways of becoming immune to them. It's a race between us humans and the bugs we are trying to defeat, which is quite natural and unavoidable. However, there are two things that we have been doing, and continue to do, wrong. One is overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals that has accelerated the development of super-bugs, now exceeding 2 million varieties. The second, which was the focus of Professor Mahan's talk, is the standard in-vitro testing of the effectiveness of antibiotics.
Research has shown that bacteria behave differently in-vitro and in-vivo, which has two consequences. When the standard AST test indicates that an antibiotic is effective for a particular infection, it may not be very effective inside our bodies, and, conversely, when the test shows it to be ineffective, it may in fact work in-vivo. Interestingly, there are small changes we can make to the in-vitro tests to vastly reduce the mismatch. For example, adding material normally found in the human body (urine, feces, and, in some instances the cheap, lowly baking soda) to the testing environment can make the tests much more accurate in their predictive power. This also gives rise to a hope that antibiotics previously ruled out as ineffective, and already-existing synthesized compounds owned by pharmaceutical companies, may become usable with more accurate tests.

2017/07/23 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Meme showing 'WE ARE SISTERS' morph into 'RESIST' Sign of the times at a bookstore Photo of Mona Lisa statue and the artist (1) Brief descriptions for the images above, from left to right, are presented in what follows.
- Kudos to women for this smart meme: WE A[RE SIST]ERS
- Sign of the time at a bookstore: Post-Apocalyotic Fiction has been moved to our Current Affair section.
- This Mona Lisa statue, by Tabrizi sculptor Ahad Hosseini, was exhibited in Paris more than two decades ago.
(2) Everyone enjoys music and understands this wonderful universal language, regardless on his/her physical or mental abilities. Kudos to Leonardo Barcellos who brought joy to this group of children.
(3) A gathering of Disney cartoon princesses: I guess it's actresses voicing those characters!
(4) The US sides with Qatar: Saudi Arabia and UAE come to regret their failed blockade of Qatar. The US State Department and national-security apparatus support Qatar, despite our clueless president taking the side of Saudi Arabia.
(5) This morning on CNN's "State of the Union": The new WH Communications Director is just as clueless as his predecessors. He is a smoother talker, but in substance, he is ill-informed, avoids answering questions directly, and blindly backs every Trump position (even contradictory ones). He went into a tailspin when asked why Trump's position on the Russian meddling is different from those of every other part of the US government.
(6) Quote of the day: "Mr. President, I demand you do your duty and insult me. Please?" ~ Joel Stein, Time magazine's humor columnist, feeling insignificant and left out, because Trump has not once threatened, mocked, discredited, or belittled him
(7) Hidden data harvesting: You are very kind. You are highly intelligent. Your friends adore you. You look like Audrey Hepburn. These are just some of the flattering outcomes of personality quizzes and similarity comparisons. They flatter you, because they want you and your friends to click on the links again. Meanwhile, with each click, you are making your personal FB data available to a stranger, who is at best someone selling stuff and at worst a scammer who will sell or otherwise abuse your personal information. This NBC-2 story contains useful hints to keep you safe. I'd go further and suggest that you avoid all such click baits.
(8) Musings of a grand ayatollah, immortalized on a wall in Iran: Pay frequent visits to imamzadehs (religious shrines purported to be burial sites for children of imams), for each has its own unique properties and effects [in granting your wishes], just as fruit varieties offer different vitamins.
(9) The worst of the worst in the medical profession: FBI has charged 412 healthcare workers, including 56 physicians, for prescribing medically unnecessary opioids, endangering many lives and collectively defrauding the government of $1.3 billion. [Source: Time magazine, issue of July 31, 2017]

Cover image of Jane Mayer's book 'Dark Money' 2017/07/22 (Saturday): Book review: Mayer, Jane, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, unabridged autiobook on 14 CDs, read by Kristen Potter, Random-House Audio, 2016.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Two events in 1980 gave a new hope to US Republicans, who had not controlled either chamber of the Congress or a majority in state legislatures for a quarter century. One was the election of Ronald Reagan as president. The other was Charles and David Koch, super-rich oil businessmen, deciding to begin spending large chunks of their fortune on electing conservatives at all levels of the US government. The strategy doggedly pursued by the Koch brothers for decades bore fruit in 2010, when the Republicans dominated state legislatures and governorships.
Jane Mayer is a staff writer for The New Yorker, who spent five years expanding an article she wrote about the Koch family into this meticulously researched book. The author has used hundreds of sources across the political spectrum, from conservative campaign operatives to liberal political opponents who were targeted by the expansive Koch network. A great deal of what Mayer has penned was already known, but her systematic and detailed presentation ties all the puzzle pieces together and offers new insight into how the conservatives rose from the ashes to control many governance positions and instruments, both nationally and locally.
By spending money on think tanks, advocacy groups with names that sound as American as apple pie (such as "Americans for Prosperity," which opposes climate-change research), funded faculty positions, and similar presumably non-political mechanisms, the Koch brothers avoid limitations on their contributions. Money pouring in from the Koch brothers and like-mined conservatives has allowed them to create a parallel power center rivaling the Republican establishment. Political candidates compete for the attention of these funding sources.
Whether this rise of conservatism represents a hijacking of our democratic system or a return to the roots of this nation as conceived by our founding fathers depends on one's political leanings. At the root of the debate, which has raged in our legal system, going all the way up to the US Supreme Court, is whether spending money is a form of free speech and, thus, whether corporations should have a say in the democratic process. For me, personally, the corrupting influence of money in politics is beyond doubt, whether the money comes from organized labor or from PACs formed around specific political goals.
This book, and its underlying research, leaves no doubt that the rich have succeeded in circumventing the notion of one-person-one-vote, for even though we still go to the polls as individuals to cast our votes, we (who organize locally around small causes that are dear to us) are no match for the vast sums of money, which pay the salaries of high-powered political operatives and fund extensive misinformation campaigns. This book was written before Donald Trump became president, but we now see that the same strategies used by domestic multi-billionaires are also available to our foreign foes, who can perhaps achieve their goals with much less money, to damage our democratic system.
In the age of big data, it isn't difficult to discover, given enough money and other resources, which buttons to push for getting the votes of specific voter blocs. Money buys you access to the airwaves and newspaper pages. It can even buy you your own news channels and newspapers. Taking advantage of our fragmented society, these private communication empires can lock in vast numbers of voters and then look around for on-the-fence voters to attract via carefully-planted fake stories.
To reclaim our democratic system, we have a lot of work to do. The starting point is becoming informed, via books such as this one, of how money influences our (traditional or new-age) media and the way important stories are covered. Next comes reducing the degree of fragmentation that has led to each group listening to or reading only the media that are aligned with their biases.

2017/07/21 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Persian calligraphy, rendered in the shape of a horse (1) Persian calligraphic art: Maece Seirafi's Pointillist Zoomorphic Horse (pen and ink), 2014.
(2) How well do you know the shapes of US states? This Time magazine interactive site allows you to draw each state, be graded on the accuracy of your depiction, and see a US map with the states as you drew them.
(3) Coffee, anyone? I bought these Eight O'Clock beans last month from Amazon.com and have been quite satisfied with them. I paid about half the price of similar Starbucks products for the bag, but prices do vary and I may have hit a promotion or something. Walmart carries the brand as well. Of course, coffee preferences are quite personal, but I thought I should pass on my experience to friends.
(4) Santa Barbara area news: The Whittier fire is now 83% contained. Fire crews have begun studying the already burned areas to see what needs to be done to prevent mudslides, on both sides of the mountains, in the upcoming rainy season. Meanwhile, according to Los Angeles Times, a great white shark bit into a man's kayak, causing beach closure in Santa Barbara on Thursday.
(5) Seems like Iranian women will never be tamed to the satisfaction of the ruling mullahs: There are reports that certain elements of the Islamic regime are floating trial balloons about repealing the mandatory hijab laws (stealthily, of course, like the Facebook page which shows women exercising their freedoms stealthily, for the said regime elements do not dare to openly oppose the top mullah). If this happens, it will be but a small step toward full equality, but an important symbolic victory for women (and men who believe in "Woman = Man"). [Persian version of this item]
(6) Fasten your seat belts, because America is headed full-speed toward a constitutional crisis! Here are some of the latest developments:
- Attorney General Jeff Sessions was dissed, but he is hanging on to his job.
- White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was fired.
- Special Counsel Robert Mueller was threatened with firing.
- Trump is considering pardoning his family and himself.
- Trump is demanding that the Senate vote on healthcare.
- Many GOPers hate Trumpcare but are afraid of voting no.
(7) A letter from the imprisoned Iranian human rights activist Narges Mohammadi: They say that in this wretched land, one cannot be both a mother and a defender of human rights, as one choice negates the other. Love of family and idealism cannot coexist; you should choose between them. And this advice comes not only from interrogators, who use your womanhood and motherhood as tools of oppression and psychological torture, and not just from certain men who are eager to limit you and urge you to stay within your bounds, but also from some women. [Full letter, in Persian]
(8) Cinema under the stars: Tonight, "Goldfinger" (1964), the third film in this summer's James Bond series (and the third of four featuring Sean Connery) was screened under the auspices of UCSB Arts & Lectures at the Courthouse Sunken Garden. The weather was perfect for the well-attended outdoors cinema event.
(9) Final thought for the day: Today marks the end of 6 months of Trump's presidency. Here is what he has done so far, according to CNN:
Number of tweets: 991 | Days spent golfing at Trump properties: 40 | Major pieces of legislation passed: 0

2017/07/20 (Thursday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Cover image for Lisa Scottoline's 'Most Wanted' (1) Book review: Scottoline, Lisa, Most Wanted, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Julia Whelan, McMillan Audio, 2016.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
A teacher opts for retirement when she finds out she is pregnant after trying for 3 years with artificial insemination. She and her husband are looking forward to the arrival of the baby, until the woman accidentally finds out during her retirement party that the sperm donor may be a serial killer. Catching a glimpse of a CNN breaking-news report about the arrest of a suspect in multiple murders, she notices strong similarities between the suspect and the sperm-donor photos the couple had been shown.
This discovery, early in the story, generates a vast array of emotions and actions. The woman sets out to discover whether the accused is actually the biological father of her baby. The husband considers legal action against the sperm bank for inadequate psychological screening of donors. The events that ensue create a rift between the couple, which they try to work out, while also dealing with the horrible possibility of having a serial killer as their child's biological father.
Scottoline does a good job of discussing the myriad of challenges that such a critical life event would unleash. Is the suspect guilty? Is the suspect really sperm donor 3319? What would they do if the suspect were the donor and turned out to be a serial killer? Is it really the case that the tendency to commit crime is genetic?
All in all, Most Wanted is an interesting and well-crafted mystery, with a wealth of commentary on social and marital issues.
(2) Scientist-turned-whistleblower under an anti-science administration. [Washington Post story]
(3) Poetry meets film: Here are four examples of cinematic-review haikus by Brad Novicoff.
- "The Birds": Sinister events | Defying explanation | Yep, that's the '60s
- "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel": Drop these seasoned pros | In a Barstow Best Western | They'd still be smashing
- "Boyhood": The flesh betrays us | But the spirit within it | Stays largely constant
- "Once Upon a Time in the West": Revenge can take time | But harmonica playing | Eases the waiting
(4) Persian music: A wonderful performance on ghanoon and daf. [1-minute video]
(5) Fake news, Iranian style: The latest story running in Iran about the late Professor Maryam Mirzakhani is that she was poisoned ("biologically assassinated") to prevent her from returning to Iran. Of course, no one here in the US believes this fake story (okay, maybe certain Trump supporters think that this act would have been a genius national-security move), but many Iranians do believe that the West cannot bear to see a successful Iranian or Muslim, as she was earlier portrayed in the media, who isn't in their service. Apparently, some so-called conservatives in Iran could not bear to see a woman dominate the news, along with her real and PhotoShopped images gracing the front pages of many newspapers, even if just for a few days. So, they decided to smear her memory by fake headlines and conspiracy theories. Professor Mirzakhani's family is indignant that amid their mourning, they have to answer questions about these fake stories. They say that she had no intention whatsoever to return to Iran and that they saw up-close the valiant efforts of physicians and other medical workers to save Maryam's life.
(6) Today's concert in the park: Playing at Santa Barbara's Chase Palm Park on a gorgeous, spring-like afternoon was Crooked Eye Tommy, a band whose style is described as "SoCal original blues." The crowd was smaller than usual, perhaps because, with the band playing original material, there were no recognizable tunes and no sing-along possibility. I photographed a few sights around the park during the intermission, including a fountain with four directional signs etched in the concrete around it that provide interesting geographical facts to the visitors. The "E" direction lists Zardak, Iran, as being exactly halfway around the world from the park (12,450 miles). [Video #1] [Video #2] [Video #3] [Video #4] [Video #5]

2017/07/19 (Wednesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Portrait of the late Maryam Mirzakhani, made from numbers (1) Basking in Maryam Mirzakhani's glow: Suddenly, everyone is praising the math genius and trying to get some attention or claim some credit in the aftermath of her passing. One by one, Iranian politicians with dismal records in the area of women's rights and unwillingness to help with Maryam's specific personal problems arising from her marrying a non-Muslim foreigner, shed crocodile tears and boast about the honors she had bestowed upon her motherland. The mourners and philosophizers include Abdolkarim Soroush, a key member of Iran's Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution in the early 1980s. Yes, people do change, but I have a hard time accepting Soroush's change of heart, having witnessed first-hand the destruction he and his ilk created at Iranian universities. He has never apologized for his role in the purges and atmosphere of terror of the early 1980s, when I was a professor at Sharif University of Technology (also, Maryam's alma mater; of course, she was only a child then). Iran's universities suffered through much indignity, including three years of full closure, under the guise of Cultural Revolution. Establishing a religious litmus test for university admissions and denying education to certain groups like the Baha'is are direct results of the way of thinking he promulgated. [Persian version of this co mmentary on Facebook]
(2) A country that drives its experts away: Maryam Mirzakhani's passing has brought renewed attention to the case of Ghassem Exiri-Fard, one of Maryam's contemporaries and her teammate in science/math competitions. Exiri-Fard, a physicist who returned to Iran to pursue an academic career, was denied employment by the Ministry of Science, on the grounds that his feminine voice would be a distraction to students. So far, he has persevered and has not left his homeland, but he is running out of options for authorities and institutions to contact to intervene for reversing this absurd decision.
(3) My afternoon walk, yesterday: I snapped these photos along the path of my invigorating walk during Tuesday's breezy afternoon. The Devereux Slough is now more or less dry, holding water only in the section closest to the ocean.
(4) The swamp stinks more with each pick: Science-Bible story writer tapped to head important EPA office.
(5) Persian poetry: A verse from Sa'eb Tabrizi, with this rough translation.
When you are mistaken, do exhibit regret | For lack of contrition is but a second error
(6) Today's GRIT talk: Speaking at UCSB's Hatlen Theater, Professor Jean Carlson of our Department of Physics presented an interesting talk entitled "Complexity and Robustness: How Biology, Ecology, and Technology Balance Trade-offs in an Uncertain World" as part of the summer session's series of public lectures. Professor Carlson's work on complex systems spans neuroscience, immunology, earthquake physics, deformations, and ecology. In the latter area, she has been working on modeling wildfires and associated prevention and response measures. With the Whittier fire still raging in our area after a week, this topic was quite timely. Like many complex systems, natural and technological disasters follow the power-law, meaning that there are a very small number of extreme disasters and gradually increasing numbers of smaller disasters, leading to a straight line on the log-log plot of the frequency-versus-impact distribution. The same pattern is observed for natural disasters, technological disasters, and even blackouts. Professor Carlson looked at trade-offs between robustness and fragility that occur in biological, ecological, and technological systems that are driven by design, evolution, or other sorting processes to high-performance states which are also tolerant to uncertainty in the environment and components. This leads to specialized, modular, hierarchical structures, often with enormous "hidden" complexity, with new sensitivities to unknown or neglected perturbations and design flaws. Taking the case of the human immune system as am example, one notes that it adapts to illnesses and develops specializations in dealing with previously encountered threats, but this specialization may make it more vulnerable to new illnesses. Such systems are robust, yet fragile! Understanding these trade-offs gives insights for environmental policy, healthcare, and technologies. [Professor Jean Carlson's Web site]
(7) IEEE Central Coast Section meeting: After eating pizza at the Goleta Rusty's located on Calle Real, we were treated to a talk entitled "Big Bang: Creation of the Universe" by Dr. Brian Williams. In the one-hour-plus talk, Dr. Williams began by discussing our knowledge of what happened during the first 10 seconds or so after the Big Bang: a lot it seems, with much of it happening over the initial microsecond, itself divided into the first picosecond, which led to the quark epoch, and the remainder, when electrons, protons, and neutrons emerged. I keep attending talks and reading books about the Big Bang, and astrophysics in general, until I develop some understanding of what is going on in our universe. At the rate my understanding is developing, it will take many more lectures and books! An interesting chart shown by Dr. Williams indicates that in the first 50,000 years after Big Bang, radiation density dominated, but then matter became dominant. At around 10 billion years, dark energy surpassed matter in density. The second (oval) diagram shows temperature fluctuations in the universe from the cosmic microwave background. The variation is actually tiny and amounts to about 0.0002 K.

2017/07/18 (Tuesday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Verses by Bidel Dehlavi and Mowlavi/Rumi (1) Persian poetry: The image shows a verse by Bidel Dehlavi on top, followed by three verses from a poem by Mowlavi (Rumi). In the latter verses, the master plays on the fact that milk and lion share the same word ("sheer") in Persian and counsels that one should not view similar-sounding/looking things as identical. Then, he employs his linguistic genius to describe the differences between milk and lion in a way that actually makes them appear more similar! Looking up the latter poem on-line, I noticed that it is written in several different forms. The second and third verses shown here don't even appear in some versions. I chose the version that sounded best to me. Now that I am on the subject of poetry, let me share here a couple of love quatrains (left and center in this image), inspired by a Rumi love quatrain (right in the same image).
(2) A dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- US teen birth rate at all-time low, dropping 9% from 2015 to 2016 (Time)
- Pet obesity: About one-third of all cats and dogs in America are too heavy (Time)
- Qatar imports cows from Germany to circumvent blockade by neighbors (Time)
- China to block VPNs used to bypass Internet censorship, starting in 2018 (Time)
- Afghan girls' robotics team allowed into US for competition after reversal (PBS)
- Winnie the Pooh banned in China, after cartoons use the bear to depict Li (Time)
- A California teenager won the scratch-off lottery prize twice in one week (Time)
- Russia talks revenge against the US, after talks end without deal (Reuters)
- Woman calling police to report noise killed by responding officer (Newsweek)
- Trump very upset over the US Senate's failure to pass Trumpcare bill (PBS)
- Support for impeaching Trump higher now than it was for Nixon (Newsweek)
- Turkey has agreed to buy missile defense system from Russia (Business Insider)
(3) US Congresswomen stand for the right to bare arms: Their sleeveless Friday movement is meant to ridicule an archaic dress code resurrected by Paul Ryan. [Photo credit: BBC]
(4) Saudi Arabia is indignant about a woman's photo on Snapchat: She was photographed walking around a fort in the village of Ushaiger. [Photo]
(5) Taking a cue from Sean Spicer, Bill Clinton hides behind the Bushes. [Photo]
(6) The secret life of USC's former med school dean: Carmen A. Puliafito, a Harvard-educated eye surgeon, resigned mid-semester to pursue "outside opportunities." However, weeks earlier a young woman had overdosed in his presence in a Pasadena hotel room. The LA Times investigative team has found photos and videos from his drug-laden parties with young addicts.
(7) [Final thought for the day] What a callous stance: The President of the United States, unhappy that he failed to fulfill his campaign promise on ACA repeal, threatens to let the country's healthcare system (under the existing ACA law) collapse to take revenge on Democrats and the few Republicans who disagreed with him. He is playing with the well-being of millions of Americans as if they were a few worthless poker chips! This morally bankrupt president will no doubt destroy our country if allowed.

2017/07/17 (Monday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Reports of Maryam Mirzakhani's passing in Iranian newspapers (1) Reactions to Maryam Mirzakhani's passing in Iran: The Fields Medalist's photo graced the front pages of many newspapers, in some case without the legally-mandated hijab. An official memorial gathering will take place in Tehran tomorrow. [Image: The Guardian]
(2) Seeing and hearing Maryam Mirzakhani teach: Never having seen or heard her lecture, this video, containing a bit of a lecture in normal speed and the rest played at high speed, piqued my interest.
(3) Honoring Maryam: Mahtab Haghighi, an opera singer and a cousin of the late mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani, sang "Jaan-e Maryam" ("Beloved Maryam") for her a day before she passed away.
(4) The Iranian regime's predictable abuse of the memory of mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani: By stating that she chose to pursue mathematics rather than feminism, regime apologists are attacking women activists, despite the fact that many such women have other accomplishments besides being feminists and activists.
Mirzakhani was the practical embodiment of feminism, having climbed to the top of her field, despite, not because of, her upbringing and education in Iran. Sharif University of Technology attracts the very top students in the country, whose raw intelligence and talent, more than the education they receive, are causes of their success. In a number of official photos taken after Mirzakhani's victories in international math competitions, she looked unhappy, while male officials in the photos were all smiles in the glow of her accomplishments.
Some reader comments on official government media Web sites in Iran blame "the Zionist regime" for her death and suggest that her daughter Anahita should be returned to Iran to be raised by her grandparents, rather than grow up with a step-mom. (These are actual comments, seriously!)
Iranian news sources (with a handful of exceptions) either did not include a photo of Mirzakhani in stories covering her passing or else used very old photos of her wearing a hijab, employed drawings, cropped a photo to show only her face and no hair, or PhotoShopped a hijab on her.
Here is an account of how Mirzakhani has been portrayed in Iranian media over the years.
(5) The secret life of USC's former med school dean: Carmen A. Puliafito, a Harvard-educated eye surgeon, resigned mid-semester to pursue "outside opportunities." However, weeks earlier a young woman had overdosed in his presence in a Pasadena hotel room. The LA Times investigative team has found photos and videos from his drug-laden parties with young addicts.
(6) US Congress votes to recognize climate change as a national security threat: The Republican House considers military bases from Virginia to Guam to be threatened by rising sea levels.
(7) Today's GRIT talk: Speaking at UCSB's Hatlen Theater, Professor Rod Garratt of our Department of Economics presented an interesting talk entitled "From Bitcoin to Central Bank Digital Currencies" as part of the summer session's series of public lectures. Bitcoin is built based on past experience with DigiCash, an early system allowing anonymous deposits to bank accounts, and several other innovations, including PayPal and Venmo. Bitcoin is a trustless system, in the sense that no one controls it. Bitcoin's autonomy and anonymity appeal to libertarians, who would like to get rid of central bank authority. In countries such as the US, where the public trusts the banks, Bitcoin does not offer much utility. However, in certain countries, particularly those in Africa, digital currencies are all the rage and the one used most (mPesa) dwarfs Bitcoin in terms of growth (see diagram). Given the significant rise in the value of Bitcoin, which now stands at more than $2000, countries around the world are exploring the benefits of issuring crypto-based central bank digital currencies. There exist many alternative crypto-currencies and it is not clear whether Bitcoin will survive or one of the so-called "alt-coins" will prevail in future. [Good 24-minute tutorial on Bitcoin]
[P.S.: On the way to Hatlin Theater, I snapped these beautiful photos of the campus lagoon, with fog over the ocean in the background.]

2017/07/16 (Sunday): Book review: Rosenthal, Elisabeth, An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Nancy Linari, Penguin, 2017.
Cover image of the audiobook 'An American Sickness' [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book consists of two parts. In Part 1, the symptoms of the American healthcare's sickness are enumerated. Part 2 deals with diagnosis and treatment. To review the symptoms, Dr. Rosenthal formulates economic rules of our dysfunctional medical market:
- More treatment is always better
- A lifetime of treatment is preferable to a cure
- Amenities and marketing matter more than good care
- As technologies age, prices can rise rather than fall
- There is no free choice; patients are stuck
- More competitors does not mean lower prices
- Economies of scale do not translate to lower prices
- There is no fixed price for a procedure or test
- There are no standards for what can/should be billed
- Prices will rise to whatever the market will bear
Rosenthal then systematically presents examples of each rule in action and shows how, as active patients, we can tame or abolish these unreasonable rules. In the interim, just being engaged in and informed about your treatment goes a long way toward avoiding some of the most egregious abuses on the part of healthcare providers and big pharma. For example, you can challenge referrals to out-of-network specialists, which typically lead to much greater out-of-pocket payments.
Our hospitals have begun to look like luxury hotels, with displayed art and "free" amenities that are anything but free. Having built excess capacity over the past few years, such luxury hospitals have developed a variety of despicable practices to keep the occupancy rate high. Many of our largest hospitals are not-for-profit, which means they cannot show profit on their books. So, they have resorted to adding facilities and increasing executive compensation and bonuses to consume the leftover cash.
While there are many hardworking doctors and nurses in our healthcare system, there are many more who have learned to game the system in order to maximize income for their institutions and for themselves. Kickbacks on prescribing expensive medications and procedures on the part of doctors and bonuses for cost-savings through not prescribing, or denying insurance payment for, other critically needed services are among worrisome traits in our system.
Healthcare systems of European countries, Canada, and Australia are often disparaged by our politicians and those who benefit from the current disarray. Yet, objective data indicate that those countries have succeeded in keeping a lid on healthcare costs, while providing services and achieving end results that are at least as good as ours.
Analyses of cost-effectiveness of procedures and drugs are totally lacking within our healthcare system, whereas other countries have successfully implemented such comparisons. For a new drug to be approved in the US, for example, all its manufacturer has to demonstrate is an advantage over placebo treatment. There is no requirement to show benefits over already-established, and thus much cheaper, drugs, with their generic varieties already available.
Then there is the abhorrent practice of marketing drugs directly to patients, rather than to medical professionals. For example, the drug HETLIOZ (tasimelteon), purportedly targeting blind people with a kind of circadian rhythm disorder known as "non-24," is widely advertised on TV and other media. The number of patients in the target category is so small, that these ads make no economic sense on the surface. However, the manufacturer is implicity pushing for the drug to be prescribed for other patients with sleep problems, even though it costs tens of times more than widely available, and quite effective, sleep medications.
The book's appendices contain a wealth of useful information, including various calculators for learning about fair prices of common medical procedures and drugs and for comparing healthcare providers. Making such comparison-shopping very difficult is the fact that, because of increasing consolidation of hospitals and other healthcare providers, many regions do not have effective competition for exploitation by patients.
There is a lot of very useful information in this book, which makes it difficult for me to try to provide a reasonable summary of all the key points. In this review, I have tried to present a few of the more interesting/important observations. I highly recommend that you read or listen to this book for yourself, perhaps more than once.

2017/07/15 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani has passed away (1) Professor Maryam Mirzakhani [1977-2017]: News of her hospitalization had been all over the social media. Unfortuantely, it seems that she has lost her battle with cancer at age 40. A talented mathematician affiliated with Stanford University, Mirzakhani was the first woman and the first person of Iranian origins to have won mathematics' most prestigious award, the Fields Medal. It is quite sad for mathematics, and science in general, to have lost such a brilliant member of the community, who could have contributed many more important results in the course of a full career. Her mind-boggling success, in the face of difficult conditions for women in Iran, which eventually led to her immigration to the US, is a testament to her smarts, determination, and resilience. May she rest in peace!
[Mother, wife, and daughter: When brilliant scientific minds pass, we mourn the loss to science and to society. Let's not forget Professor Maryam Mirzakhani's loved ones, who are experiencing an even greater loss from her untimely death at age 40. Our hearts go out to them.]
(2) The true story of a family's slave, as told by a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist. [From The Atlantic]
(3) Russian hackers don't just target politicians: Ordinary citizens like us are in their cross-hairs as well. They are trying to cause discord by spreading disinformation on anything, from medical treatments to cheesecake recipes. Like everything else blamed on Russia, Trump supporters are crying "fake news" and "witch hunt," but the article's contents make sense, when viewed in the light of Russia's embarrassing economy, further wrecked by Western sanctions. [WSJ article]
(4) Joke of the day: [Or, is it really a joke?] A man went to a sage to ask how he can discover his faults for the sake of self-improvement. "It's easy, my son," the sage began. "Tell your wife one of her faults, and she will voice not just a complete list of your faults but also those of your family, friends, and acquaintances."
(5) Cartoon of the day: Messing with the teacher. [Image]
(6) This week's Time magazine cover image: The hunt for Russia ties is bearing fruit.
(7) Promoting common humanity, peace, and love: Message on a T-shirt. [Photo]
(8) Data science may unlock the secrets of mental illness: According to a cover feature in IEEE Spectrum magazine, issue of July 2017, digital psychology will revolutionize the treatment of depression, schizophrenia, and many other disorders. Computers are excellent in connecting the dots, when armed with a wealth of data from your smartphone's wi-fi/GPS (tracking social rhythms), accelerometer/gyroscope (physical activity), light sensor (sleep environment), camera (facial expressions), heart-rate sensor (increased anxiety), touchscreen (response time), and microphone (tone of voice and ambient social environment). [Cover image]
(9) Beware of bullshit: Years ago, I read an article by Harry Frankfurt (Princeton) entitled "On Bullshit," which though in part humorous, expounded on the perils of a society filled with false information. Now, a serious academic department at University of Washington is offering a 1-credit seminar, entitled "Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data" which will allow scientists to spot misguided or dishonest scientific claims. The on-line course syllabus contains links to a wealth of sources on the topic. I can't wait to pursue some of the sources!

2017/07/14 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
A math equation to solve for x (1) Math puzzle: A problem, really. And responding that x is an unknown in the equation doesn't count as an answer! Once you solve the problem, consider the more general case when the two instances of 15 in the equation are replaced by an arbitrary known value n.
(2) Fake news augmented with imaginary news: This "Christian" "prophet" claims that Trump has secretly imprisoned 3000 elite pedophiles and that Hillary Clinton is next on that list. It is frightening that such trash has readers/listeners in our country.
(3) Iran's newest robot is a dancing humanoid: Dubbed "Surena-mini," the 50-cm-tall robot was built by a team of researchers at University of Tehran, led by Professor of Mechanical Engineering Aghil Yousefi-Koma, to serve as a convenient platform for robotics research.
(4) Kellyanne Conway should update her signs: Cross out "illusion" and "delusion" and uncross "collusion"!
(5) Cartoon of the day: Pig Latin. [Image]
(6) A page from the history of computing: In 1973, Loving Grace Cybernetics, a group of computer enthusiasts in Berkeley, CA, set up terminals connected to a computer via a modem. The public was invited to read a bulletin board, carrying info on apartment rentals, music lessons, and so on, for free or post a listing for $0.25.
(7) Chinese scientists claim to have teleported an object from earth to a satellite 300 miles above. The object was a single photon, which was teleported based on the quantum entanglement principle.
(8) California central-coast fires are still raging: We had more ash-fall today in our area. The Whittier fire near Santa Barbara has spread to 13,000 acres, with only 52% containment, and it has injured 5 firefighters. At 29,000 acres, the Alamo fire further to the north is larger but is reportedly 92% contained.
(9) Whittier fire late-afternoon update: Shopping at Trader Joe's today, I snapped a photo of this fire map outside the store and listened to a detailed briefing by a fire ranger. The fire started behind the mountains to the north of us, but it quickly went over the ridge and started descending on the south side, toward the ocean. The Xs on the map mark locations (mostly ridges) were bulldozers have removed or are removing vegetation, to stop the fire from moving into densely populated areas. Once vegetation has been removed, firefighters may decide to start backfires that would move toward the fire boundary (shown in dark orange on the map), so as to deprive the spreading fire of new fuel. Unfortunately, sundowner winds predicted for tonight make any backfire quite hazardous, as wind-carried sparks can move a mile or more to start new fires. New evacuation areas were announced as we stood listening to these explanations. I also took this photo from the intersection of Calle Real and Fairview, showing the thick smoke/ash cloud over Goleta that has made air quality quite poor.

2017/07/13 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon about DT Jr. getting some dirt on Hillary Clinton (1) Cartoon of the day: He got some dirt all right!
(2) Iranian diva Googoosh talks about her childhood. [Interview]
(3) US mass killings over four decades: This chart covers the 40-year period 1976-2015, with partial data for 2016. Contrary to conventional wisdom that mass killings are getting much worse, the data shows fairly stable averages, when adjusted for population growth. The federal assault weapons ban led to a slight reduction in averages, and its lifting produced an uptick, as expected.
(4) The Russian connection: Trump, Putin, and other shady characters in the newly revealed secret meeting between DT Jr. and a Russian attorney with ties to Putin. [Image from CNN]
(5) Political humor: The White House denies any ties to the United States. "In a fiercely defiant statement on Tuesday, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, denied that any member of the White House staff has ever worked 'in any way, shape, or form' for the benefit of the United States. Angrily addressing the press corps, Spicer said that any allegations that members of the Trump Administration have ever acted in concert or collusion with the United States are 'unequivocally false.'" [Full story]
(6) Trump's personal lawyer assumes his client's persona: He sends a number of expletive-ridden e-mails to a woman correspondent.
(7) Trump in France: A French reporter challenges Trump by quoting his earlier claim that a friend told him Paris is no longer Paris and that no one goes there any more. Trump responds that under their great new President, France will be okay and that people will go there. Insincere flattery saves the day for him; sort of!
(8) Concert in the park: The Hollywood Stones, a Rolling Stones tribute band, performed at Chase Palm Park this evening. ["Paint It Black"] ["Honky Tonk Woman"] ["You Can't Always Get What You Want"] ["Jumping Jack Flash"] ["It's Only Rock and Roll"] The large crowd of Stones' fans in the park included teenagers, octogenarians, and all ages in between. During the intermission, I walked to Santa Barbara's Rainbow Gate on Cabrillo Blvd. and photographed it from various angles. On the way back from the highly enjoyable concert, I photographed a restaurant along Cabrillo Blvd., on a stretch where huge tourist buses line up to let the passengers take a stroll or dine.
(9) Final thought for the day: Those who tried to teach us for decades to hate Russia are now hating us for being critical of Russia.

2017/07/12 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
The amazing nature: A tree within a tree (1) The amazing nature: A tree within a tree.
(2) A "Fig & Quince" Persian podcast: The story of a foodie Kermanshahi girl, who is good-natured, intelligent, street-smart, a software engineer, and a twin. She is full of energy and can eat several meals at once, without losing her slim figure.
(3) Quote of the day: "It will soon come to this: Either Trump goes down forever in disgrace, or America does. You pick, GOP." ~ George Takei
(4) The power of a free press: Donald Trump vastly misjudged the power of our country's free press when he decided to pick a fight with this established pillar of our democracy. Backstabbing and crossing people has consequences and those wronged will inevitably try to get even (hence, leaks coming out of the White House). A real-estate developer can survive such behavior working with small contractors and business partners, because the power of the said parties is limited when they air their grievances. They can go to the press (and many did), but interest in their stories is limited. The same behavior from a president is quite different, especially when the said president constantly hammers the press with fake-news and other allegations. This is why dictators target the press before dealing with any other adversary. And in today's world of instant connectivity, taking on the press is doomed to failure.
(5) What the world would look like if all the ice melted: A rise of 216 ft (~ 30 m) in sea level would submerge vast coastal areas, as shown in this series of maps.
(6) Art in the spotlight: Indigenous Australian art, projected on the Sydney Opera House. [Photo]
(7) Today's GRIT talk: Speaking at UCSB's Hatlen Theater, Professor Debora Iglesias-Rodriguez of our Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology and Marine Science Institute presented an interesting talk entitled "Ocean Acidification and Other Stories—Overcoming Climate Anxiety at a Time of Global Crisis" as part of the summer session's series of public lectures. According to Dr. Iglesias-Rodriguez, oceans are highly stressed by the world's 7.5 billion humans. As ocean acidification, pollution, and deoxygenation continue at a rapid pace, marine animals and plants must quickly adapt to warmer and more corrosive environments. One reason for ocean acidification is increased CO2 levels, which automatically balances with the level in the air in a relatively short time period (months). So, when atmospheric CO2 level rises, so does the ocean's. We are understandably anxious about sustainability of our oceans for recreation and as a source of food. It is therefore incumbent upon us to ameliorate current ocean problems and eventually return them to a sustainable state.
(8) The second installment of the James Bond film series: For this week, I decided to forego the outdoors Friday night screening at the Courthouse Sunken Garden in favor of the indoors Wednesday night version at Campbell Hall. The film this week was the very topical "From Russia With Love," with all of its intriguing collusion stories! It was interesting to hear the audience laugh in scenes that were not meant to be funny! These scenes typically contained cheesy or sexist dialog.
(9) Final thought for the day: G-20 is not G-19.5 (19 adults and one child).

2017/07/11 (Tuesday): Here are four interesting images and nine other items of potential interest.
PhotoShopped image made from combining two famous paintings Calligraphic rendering of a Persian poem Looking back in time, in a single photo Girl and photobombing horse in Disneyland? (1) [Cartoon of the day, on Trump and Putin meeting] Trump: "He 'gets' me!" Putin: "I've GOT him." [Image]
(2) Joke of the day: A little boy was told to study the geography of Iran's neighboring countries for an exam. He didn't spend much time on his assignment and managed to learn only the details about Pakistan. On exam day, he was asked about Turkey, which he had not studied and knew nothing about. So, he answered thus: Turkey is a neighbor of Iran and Iran is a neighbor of Pakistan. And now about Pakistan, ... [My sister reminded me about this old joke in connection with certain people who have a few talking points that they repeat on every Facebook post, regardless of the topic.]
(3) The US President takes on Chelsea Clinton on Twitter and lives to regret his rant! [Image of tweets]
Trump @realDonaldTrump: "If Chelsea Clinton were asked to hold the seat for her mother, as her mother gave our country away, the Fake News would say CHELSEA FOR PRES!"
Shauna @goldengateblond: "Chelsea Clinton has a PhD in international relations from Oxford. She's more qualified to be in that seat than your entire family. Combined."
(4) The witch hunt is closing in on the witches: Someone said that DT Jr.'s explanation that the Putin-linked Russian attorney, whom he, Kushner, and Manafort met, had no valuable info is like a thief setting out to rob a bank but abandoning the effort when he realizes that it's Sunday and banks are closed! Let's see if even one Republican denounces the statement "There was absolutely no collusion!" [NYT story]
(5) Trump has found his soulmate in the press-hating Putin! [The Independent story]
(6) Riddle of the day: What do physicians and computer engineers have in common? Both groups blame a virus when they have no clue about what's going on!
(7) A majority of Republicans consider colleges bad for the US, according to a Pew Research Center poll.
(8) Revenge porn: Charlotte Alter, writing in Time magazine, issue of July 10-17, 2017, wants to warn women to be careful about photos they allow their mates to take. Lured into a sense of security in a loving relationship, they may allow their mates to take take intimate photos of them, not thinking that such photos have a way of finding their way to the Internet. The photos may be obtained via hacking of computers, and some unhinged ex-lovers post such photos to various sites as a way of taking revenge for being dumped. Unfortunately, the situation for women and men is highly asymmetric: women typically do not take revenge in this way and, even if they do, the consequences (career or otherwise) for men is not as severe.
(9) Final humorous thought for the day: After talk of a joint US-Russia cyber-security unit, Al Qaeda has proposed to Trump work on a joint anti-terrorism unit!

2017/07/10 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon showing the right and left holding Uncle Sam in a precarious position (1) Cartoon of the day: The Divided States of America!
(2) Quote of the day: "Nothing is so necessary for a man as the company of an intelligent woman." ~ Leo Tolstoy
(3) Joke of the day: Grandpa: "Young man, let me tell you a joke about Social Security." Grandson: "Go ahead!" Grandpa: "You probably won't get it."
(4) The media are being warned to vet documents and associated stories very carefully: Trumpians are taking their fake-news strategy to new lows. They are purposefully feeding fake news to the media, with the goal of taking them down if they fall for one of these fake stories and run with it.
(5) The fox guarding the hen house: Trump and Putin want their countries to set up a cooperative arrangement to deal with cyber-security threats. Russia has been a terrible actor in attacking other countries' cyber-infrastructures. Their actions included, as everyone but Trump admits, meddling in the 2016 US election. A recent US intelligence report points a finger at Russia for infiltrating our energy infrastructure, including the computer systems of a nuclear power operating company. On the other hand, we do have a lot in common with Russia, including the colors of our flags and the oversize egos of our leaders!
(6) Trump and Putin exchange pleasantries, as they finally meet face to face: What was discussed in the longer-than-expected meeting isn't very clear. According to Tillerson, Trump raised the issue of Russian hacking right at the outset, but he was vague on Putin's reaction or whether he made any promises not to do it again. Russia, on the other hand, had a different take. It said in formal statements that Trump had accepted Putin's assurances that Russia was not involved and that it had been agreed that the two countries should move on and focus on future relations.
(7) Bill Mahr criticized for racist tweet: I like Bill Mahr and think that many of his monologues make valid points in a hilarious way. However, he has to do something about his racist streak. This isn't the first time he has gotten in trouble for making racist remarks, and someone with the celebrity status of Mahr should know better, especially when he frequently accuses others of racism. Here is the offensive tweet; judge for yourselves: "This N Korean thing is getting tense! I mean, I think it is, I'm on vaca. The ladies at my nail salon are freaking out, that's what I know!"
(8) The witch hunt is closing in on the witches: Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer, after being promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton, according to Reuters. Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner were also present at the meeting.
(9) Today's GRIT talk: Speaking at UCSB's Hatlen Theater, Professor Greg Ashby of our Psychology Department presented an interesting talk entitled "I have no idea how I did that: The remarkable learning abilities of the human brain" as part of the summer session's series of public lectures. Dr. Ashby has authored 3 books and more than 150 papers, and he has received many honors, including serving as President of the Society for Mathematical Psychology. According to Dr. Ashby, humans have multiple functionally- and anatomically-distinct learning systems that evolved at different times for different purposes. Progress on understanding these systems, which learn in qualitatively different ways, is slowed by the fact that the most challenging learning tasks draw upon the capabilities of several systems, making it difficult to know which system contributed to any specific performance improvement. For example, in learning to play the piano, both declarative/explicit learning, of the kind that results from reading books or listening to lectures, and procedural learning, that is, learning by gradual/incremental improvement, are involved. The two kinds of learning are distinct. Explicit learning is a function of working memory, so that people who do well in memory tasks have an edge in this kind of learning, whereas procedural learning exhibits little dependence on working memory.
[On the way to the lecture venue, I took a detour and snapped these photos on a beautiful afternoon.]

2017/07/09 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon showing a library patron asking a librarian about a US history book (1) Cartoon of the day: On different versions of US history.
(2) Quote of the day: "[Trump supporters] don't dig for truth; they skim the media for anything that makes them feel better about themselves. To many of them, knowledge is not a useful tool but a cunning barrier [that] elites have created to keep power from the average man and woman." ~ David Rothkopf, Visiting Professor of International Relations and Political Science, Columbia University, and CEO of The Rothkopf Group
(3) Ivanka Trump represented USA at the G-20 summit for a brief period, as her dad stepped out of the room. Why weren't Tillerson and other high-ranking US officials available for this task?
(4) SoCal Edison announces rate changes: They are introducing a time-of-use (TOU) rate plan, whereby electricity will cost less during off-peak hours and more during high usage periods. My SoCal friends will receive a notification that allows them to opt in for the TOU plan, along with an analysis (based on current usage pattern) of the projected savings, if any. In my case, the projected savings are too little to be worth switching plans, unless the switching is accompanied by a modification of my usage pattern.
(5) Understanding Donald Trump voters: This Forbes article, identifies five types of voters.
31% Staunch conservatives   |   25% Free-marketeers   |   20% American preservationists
19% Anti-elites   |   5% The disengaged
The third group is what propelled Trump to victory. The contradictions inherent in the first two groups forming a coalition with the last three groups in voting for Trump should not be lost on us. Trump is hardly a conservative, given his background and lifestyle, and he is definitely not a free-marketeer, based on his statements and positions on trade.
(6) Tehran now boasts the largest bookstore in the world: And this in a country where there is a dismal record of book-reading and strict pre- and post-publication censorship of everything that goes to print, not to mention self-censorship by publishers. At 700,000 square feet, the center has several movie theaters, science halls, classrooms, a restaurant, a prayer room, and a green roof-top park.
(7) Men engineered the Titanic: But a woman (Stephanie Kwolek) was behind the invention of lightweight material for bullet-proof vests and another woman engineer (Maria Beasly) came up with the idea of life rafts. [Observations from E&T magazine, special issue on how to attract more women to engineering, July 2017]
(8) A few miscellaneous items of note:
- "Leader of the free world" ignores, or is ignored by, other leaders enjoying one another's company. [Photo]
- Yesterday we saw the onset of two major fires (Whittier and Alamo) in the Santa Barbara area.
- Imaginative peaceful protest at the G-20 summit in Hamburg. [Video]
- Has anyone seen the new movie "Now Hiring"? [Photo]
(9) Final thought for the day: The fight against global terrorism isn't a clash of civilizations, but a clash of civilization, Western and Eastern, with barbarism.

2017/07/08 (Saturday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Cover image for Ambrose Bierce's 'Write it Right' (1) Book review: Bierce, Ambrose, Write it Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults, 1909 [Free e-book from Project Gutenberg]
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Writing is often pursued as a vehicle of creative expression for the author, whereas it is more a way of making your thoughts understandable to the reader. We read in the introduction to this gem of a book that good writing is "clear thinking made visible." In this sense, we should prefer words that have precise meanings and avoid words that can have different interpretations. Acording to Roman rhetorician Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, usually referred to simply as Quintilian, "The writer should so write that his[/her] reader not only may, but must, understand."
Like a dictionary or glossary, Bierce's book is organized alphabetically, with almost all entries starting with "x for y," which means that linguistic offenders use x to mean y, followed by a terse justification, and whether the usage is awkward/misguided or a serious linguistic faux pas. This book has been very helpful to me in improving my writing.
I went through the entire book from A to W, but will keep a copy (actually, Gutenberg Project's link to the full text) handy for future perusal, as there is just too much info to remember from a single reading. I end my review by presenting a few examples that I found most enlightening. I have included very little of the explanatory narratives for the entries.
Allow for Permit | Appropriated for Took | Because for For | Build for Make | Bogus for Counterfeit | Can for May
Commence for Begin| Critically for Seriously | Dirt for Earth, Soil, or Gravel (dirt means filth)
Distinctly for Distinctively | Each other for One another (when there are more than two persons)
Empty for Vacant (empty bottle, but vacant house) | Essential for Necessary | Experience for Suffer, or Undergo
Gratuitous for Unwarranted | Hereafter for Henceforth | I'm afraid for I fear (it will rain)
Insoluble for Unsolvable (problem) | Integrity for Honesty | Involve for Entail | Jeopardize for Imperil
Less for Fewer | Lunch for Luncheon | Minus for Lacking, or Without | Numerous for Many | Over for More than
Partially for Partly | Preventative for Preventive | Quit for Cease, or Stop (smoking) | Real for Really, or Very
Residence for Dwelling, or House | Roomer for Lodger (see Bedder and Mealer, if you can find them!)
Score for Win, Obtain, etc. | Squirt for Spurt | State for Say | Talented for Gifted
The (a little word that is terribly overworked) | Transpire for Occur | Unkempt for Disordered, Untidy, etc.
Verbal for Oral | Witness for See
(2) A wonderful Persian verse from Sa'eb Tabrizi: Asking dastards for help with your problems is like trying to remove a thorn from your foot, using a scorpion's fang. [Persian text]
(3) Sleeveless dresses/blouses banned for women in the Capitol: Sneakers or open-toed shoes are similarly out. These are actually archaic congressional rules, which Paul Ryan has decided to enforce. Iranian mullahs hail the decision! Paging Ms. Masih Alinejad to fight for women's freedom of clothing choice at the US Capitol!
(4) Trump claims G20 leaders talked about the DNC leaks and Podesta's refusal to give the DNC server to FBI and CIA: Here is DNC spokesperson Adrienne Watson's response tweet: "1) Podesta never ran the DNC. 2) DNC worked with FBI to kick out Russians. Worked with DHS. 3) Putin make you tweet this before mtg?"
(5) A few engineering/technology news items of note:
- World's first spokeless ferris wheel revealed in China: The frame, with its 125-meter diameter, does not rotate, but 10-passenger cars move around it with a built-in running gear.
- Noise isn't always bad: Advocates for the blind demand regulations to force electric-car makers to increase their noisiness for safety reasons (knowing that a car is approaching). [Source: E&T magazine, July 2017]
- Russian hackers penetrate US energy networks: A joint DHS/FBI report names the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation among companies targeted by the effort to hack into US energy and industrial plants.
(6) Final thought for the day: Remember the hell raised over the Dixie Chicks criticizing the US on foreign soil? Well, let's see what happens after President Trump's attack on Obama, CNN, and intel agencies in Poland.

2017/07/07 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Super-cool Snapchat glasses are now being sold in Europe (1) Goodbye geeky tech glasses: Super-cool Snapchat glasses have arrived in Europe. At this point, they just have a camera and none of the advanced capabilities of the discontinued, geeky Google glasses, but more functionality will no doubt come in time. [Image credit: E&T magazine, issue of July 2017]
(2) Marking 20 years of non-stop robotic exploration of Mars, thanks to indefatigable NASA scientists and engineers. [Video]
(3) Trump and US intelligence agencies: Isn't it interesting that when trump is provided intelligence on Syria, Iran, or North Korea, he uses the info and brags about how good it is, but when he is told by the same agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, he attacks the sources and compares the accuracy of the info to that about Iraq's possession of WMDs!
(4) The "hoax" that's no longer a hoax: Trump has finally come to admit that Russia meddled in our 2016 election, but every time he mentions that it was Russia, he adds something like "and probably others too" to soften his statement. He also blames Obama for doing nothing about it. But Obama did a lot about it (including imposing sanctions that, according to Russia's own admission, are crushing their economy and expelling a large number of Russian spies), as opposed to Trump who has done nil. And Trump hasn't said a word about why he previously thought that the assertion of Russian meddling was a hoax!
(5) NPR tweeted the entire American Declaration of Independence: Many Trump supporters, not recognizing the historic document, took issue with NPR's spreading of "propaganda" and "trying to sound patriotic, while condoning violence." Many of these comments have since been deleted, but not before others captured and preserved them.
(6) Five brief items in the news about Iranians inside and outside Iran.
- Satirist Mr. Haloo takes on the mullah who had said inflation and high prices are the will of God. [Video]
- Three Iranian-born actresses invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. [Image]
- Iranian-Canadians of Vancouver participated in Canada's 150th birthday celebrations. [7-minute video]
- The schoolgirl whose singing video went viral a few years ago has developed into a seasoned singer!
- Nice artwork by Nasim Bahari, showing Tajrish Square and its vicinity, in Shemiran, north of Tehran.
(7) Journalist threatened by Neo-Nazis and other Trump supporters: Jared Yates Sexton, the journalist who revealed the racist and anti-Semitic background of the Reddit user whose video of Trump beating up a CNN meme was tweeted by Trump himself, is getting a lot of hate messages, up to and including death threats.
(8) Cinema under the stars is back: This summer's films, screened Wednesdays at UCSB's Campbell Hall, beginning at 7:30 PM, and Fridays at the SB Courthouse Sunken Garden, beginning at 8:30 PM, are selections from the James Bond franchise. Tonight, I watched, in a relaxing evening under the stars, "Dr. No" from 1962, the first film in the 55-year-old franchise, now containing 26 films.
(9) Final thought for the day: On July 4th, 2017, North Korea fired a missile into the ocean, and so declared independence from American nuclear threat!

2017/07/06 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Persian calligraphy, shaped in the form of a cylinder to honor Cyrus the Great (1) Calligraphic art by Morteza Shabai, shaped to honor the Cyrus Cylinder.
(2) GOPers who voted to impeach Bill Clinton are eerily quiet on Donald Trump!
(3) New poll: Independents trust CNN more than Trump, 55% to 40% [Newsweek].
(4) German patriotism vs. US regular and alternative patriotisms. [Image]
(5) A feat of engineering: Chinese fountain, featuring projected 3D imagery.
(6) Not a SCOTUS opinion, but important to note nonetheless: Chief Justice John G. Roberts speaks at the 9th-grade graduation ceremony of Cardigan Mountain School, a NH boarding school for boys.
(7) Algerian student denied doctoral degree after successfully defending dissertation: Her work was critical of the country's military, so even though her doctoral committee was satisfied with the dissertation after their recommended changes had been made, the university's administration withheld her degree and removed copies of the dissertation from the library. Let's hope the student's body isn't found in a ditch somewhere! This story reminds me of the case of a master's student at UCSB who was denied a degree because he added a disacknowledgments section, criticizing the unhelpfulness of his committee, after the thesis was approved but before filing copies at the library. The UCSB case was eventually resolved in the student's favor, but the critical comments were removed.
(8) The great American solar eclipse of 2017: The last total solar eclipse to traverse the US was in 1918 and the next one will be in 2045. So, understandably, many people want to see this once-in-a-lifetime event. Some 12 million Americans live on the path of the total eclipse, shown in this Time magazine map (which also contains a wealth of other info), and 47 million are within a 2-hour drive. The map also shows the eclipse percentage in other parts of the US; around 60% in my neck of the woods. I may decide to go experience the total eclipse in Oregon or Wyoming on Monday, 8/21.
(9) Summer concerts in the park are back: This evening at Santa Barbara's Chase Palm Park, I enjoyed great music by The PettyBreakers (tribute band to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers). On the way to the concert site, I photographed several sights in and around Chase Palm Park. The crowd was sizable and jolly, dancing and singing along with the band throughout the concert. On the way back, I was impressed by the moon's glory, as I walked to my car along Cabrillo Blvd; these iPhone photos do not do it justice, though. As for the songs performed, there were a lot of good ones. I recorded six samples, arranged from the shortest (1-minute) to the longest (5-minute). [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3] [Video 4] [Video 5] [Video 6]

2017/07/05 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
NYC protest march against the Republican healthcare plans (1) June 4th NYC protest march against the Republican healthcare plans. [Photo credit: Time magazine, issue of July 10 & 17, 2017]
(2) Quote of the day: "To persevere in one's duty, and be silent, is the best answer to calumny." ~ George Washington
[This quote was tweeted by author J. K. Rowling as a reaction to Trump's tweet, which included a video of his beating up a man having CNN's logo as his face; "calumny" is essentially the equivalent of fake news in Washington's day.]
(3) Relaxing piano music by Mohsen Karbassi: I love these 80 (mostly) Persian tracks as background music when I work or play.
[Karbassi's Facebook page (with videos and more)]
[Karbassi's Web site (with sheet music and more)]
(4) Persian music: Homayoun Shajarian sings in this wonderful 24-minute video and in this concert with Simorgh orchestra, conducted by Hooman Khalatbari and performing "Simorgh," a composition by Hamid Motabassem, featuring poems of Ferdowsi.
(5) Hilarious response to Trump's tweet of a video showing him beating up a CNN character.
(6) Chris Christie looks, thinks, and talks like Donald Trump: He tells the media criticizing him for his family members enjoying a beach, which had been closed to the public due to government shutdown in New Jersey, to come to grips with the fact that he is the governor. Trump had boasted in a speech that he is the President and his media critics are not.
(7) Freedom sculpture unveiled: Designed in the shape of the Cyrus Cylinder, the sculpture (installed on Santa Monica Blvd., at the entrance to Century City) is a gift from the Iranian-American community to the City of Los Angeles. It was unveiled in special ceremonies yesterday, as part of the city's July-4th celebrations. Here is the LA Times report. And here is a personal video report, posted by Bita Milanian.
(8) Today's GRIT talk: Speaking at UCSB's Hatlen Theater, Professor Tim Sherwood of our Computer Science Department presented an interesting talk entitled "The Rock We Tricked into Thinking" as part of the summer session's series of public lectures. The "rock" of the title is, of course, the ubiquitous silicon, which we often see in the form of sand on the beach. As usual for these Monday-Wednesday talks, there was significant attendance by summer-session students. Starting with the observation that each of us likely has 5 billion tiny electrical switches in his/her pocket, Professor Sherwood discussed the state of the art in computer technology, which despite mind-boggling advances over the past few decades, still presents us with many unanswered, yet rather basic, questions. Inspired by the human brain, and motivated by the need for energy-efficient and intelligent systems, computer scientists and engineers are hard at work to bring us even more intricate and powerful systems. The latest developments in computer technology are based on the use of nontraditional methods, such as quantum computing and taking advantage of hybrid analog/digital systems to offer super-high performance at low energy cost.
(9) Final thought for the day: All future US presidents should be thankful to Trump for establishing new lows against which they will look super-competent and immeasurably presidential.

2017/07/04 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Lompoc flower field, with red, white, and blue flowers forming the American flag (1) Happy Independence Day to my fellow Americans! A few years ago, the city of Lompoc, about 50 miles north of Santa Barbara and known as "the flower seed capital of the world," had a field covered with red, white, and blue flowers forming the American flag. We once hiked on a nearby hill to get a view of the flag from above. Alas, the flag is now gone.
Also, a belated happy Canada Day (July 1) to my readers north of the border, as their country celebrates its 150th birthday! I almost became a Canadian in the late 1980s, when during visiting appointments at Waterloo and Carleton Universities, I received permanent job offers from Canadian institutions. In the final analysis, however, I chose Santa Barbara as my new city and the US as my new home country.
(2) Confirmation of sugar's link to Alzheimer's: "[A] 'tipping point' molecular link between the blood sugar glucose and Alzheimer's disease has been established by scientists, who have shown that excess glucose damages a vital enzyme involved with inflammation response to the early stages of Alzheimer's."
(3) Astronaut Buzz Aldrin's reactions, as he listens to Trump announcing the re-establishment of the National Space Council (disbanded in 1993), speak volumes.
(4) Comparison of premiums between Obamacare (blue) and Senate's Trumpcare (red) in this chart, an average increase of 74%. [Source: Kaiser Family Foundation]
(5) "Waterfall" by M. C. Escher: One of several Escher drawings creating the illusion of perpetual motion.
(6) The amazing nature: Fantastic fungi, indispensable to nature, shown through time-lapse photography.
(7) Two quotes about freedom, in celebration of the American Independence Day:
"Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better." ~ Albert Camus
"Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves." ~ Abraham Lincoln
(8) Feasts for the eyes in exotic places: The magnificent nature of Heaven's Gate, China, and the colorful lanterns at Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, Turkey.
(9) Final thought for the day: "As President of our contry and Commander-in-Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so." ~ President Barack Obama, speaking at the 2012 UN General Assembly

2017/07/03 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
An Iranian dish that looks more like a piece of art (1) Iranian cuisine or art?
(2) Burger joints in my city: Cover feature of this week's Santa Barbara Independent. [Cover image]
(3) Same-sex marriage now legal in Germany: Angela Merkel's surprise statement, that she wanted German lawmakers to be free to vote their conscience, allowed members of her coalition to break from the party's position and led to the 393-226 passage of a same-sex marriage law.
(4) Advice from a Facebook friend: "Enjoy and remember every line you read and every smile you see." This FB friend has been losing his eyesight gradually, owing to neural degeneration (as I understand it). He can still see and read from a limited part of one eye's visual field, but is uncertain whether the degeneration will continue. His positive attitude and decision to make the best of what he has are inspiring.
(5) A Persian poem by Abolghassem Haalat: In a semi-serious poem, Haalat laments his soft heart that puts him at a disadvantage in a cold-hearted world.
(6) Trump's treatment of women explained in terms of hostile and benevolent sexism.
(7) What artists circa 1900 thought life would be like in the year 2000. [Pictorial]
(8) Persian music: A talented group of female musicians, the Mah Banoo Band, performs "Jaan-e Aashegh" ("Lover's Soul"), accompanied by their director Majid Derakhshani, who composed the piece. This second piece is Nazli and Roshan Rahmanian's wonderful rendition of "Porsoon Porsoon," an old popular song.
(9) Final thought for the day: "Thank God I am an atheist!" ~ George Bernard Shaw (paraphrased)

2017/07/02 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
B. Parhami's fake magazine cover (1) My magazine cover: Inspired by Trump (and other egotistic rulers around the world)! You can visit yourcover.com to design your own cover. You'll have to register after creating the cover.
(2) New architectural wonders: China is building the world's first forest city and the world's largest airport. Beijing's mega-airport, set to open in 2019, was designed by the late architect Zaha Hadid.
(3) Lecture on Forough Farrokhzad: Professor Farzaneh Milani, of University of Virginia, reviews Farrokhzad's life and poetry in this informative 50-minute talk.
(4) Putin paid Trump? A year ago, a Republican Congressman said in a private meeting that candidate Trump and a pro-Russia Congressman were on Putin's payroll. After initial denial that he had said this, he now claims the statement was a joke. So, why did Speaker Ryan, who was also present at the meeting, swore everyone to secrecy?
(5) Mr. Bean at the emergency room. [Comedy skit]
(6) How to e-mail like a professional: Google exec Eric Schmidt gives us 9 essential rules to follow.
(7) States resist WH request: Under the guise of voter-fraud investigation, WH commission tries to collect a vast array of private voter data, but nearly half the US states refuse to hand over the data.
(8) Former Trump friends: Before they became Trump foes and subjects of his ire, "Morning Joe" hosts supported and empowered him, all the way to a couple of months ago, when his incompetence and character flaws had become obvious to the rest of the press. They are just new examples of friends thrown under the bus by Trump in order to create a few more days of distraction from his serious problems.
(9) Trump's latest juvenile tweet: I would have thought that he might want to hide an old video clip of him engaging in a fake fight with someone at a Wrestlemania event. Yesterday, he tweeted an edited version that replaces the head of the person he is supposedly beating with the CNN logo. I am sure the administration will try to whitewash this token of Trump's anger issues and lack of respect for the First Amendment by characterizing it as humor. While the clip is somewhat funny, "scary" and "disgusting" are the words that come to mind first. Welcome to the United States of Reality TV, as we approach our nation's birthday celebration!

Cover image for 'Astrophysics for People in a Hurry' 2017/07/01 (Saturday): Book review: deGrasse Tyson, Neil, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, e-book, W. W. Norton & Company, 2017.
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This is the first e-book that I perused on the OverDrive app that connects my smartphone to the local public library (I had listened to several MP3 audiobooks earlier). The experience, while not as pleasant as that of listening to an audiobook or reading a printed volume, was more than acceptable, particularly given the convenience of having the book I was reading with me at all times to fill waiting times or dead periods between consecutive scheduled commitments.
Astrophysics has always been a mystery to me, and it remains so after reading this book. Perhaps, I have not delved deeply enough into the subject, but I find it extremely unsatisfying when new concepts are created just to fill voids left by our incomplete knowledge of the world.
The universe does not quite follow laws of gravity? Let's say there is invisible "dark matter" that interacts with gravitational forces but not with anything else. Tyson explains these made-up notions as placeholders that are useful until we discover the true causes of current discrepancies (much like ether was used to explain light propagation in a vacuum).
We are told that at the beginning of time, all matter and energy was contained in a volume less than one trillionth the size of the period that ends this sentence. Forgetting that the said period is 2-dimensional and not a volume, and assuming that the author meant a sphere with the same diameter as the period, that volume can be estimated to be about 10^(–10) cubic meters, so the statement tells us that everything was contained in a volume of 10^(–22) cubic meters. A few paragraphs later, we read about the Planck era, the first 10^(–43) second of the life of the universe, when its size grew to 10^(–35) meters. How can something grow to occupy a smaller volume than it had originally? Just because we are in a hurry to learn does not mean that we don't cross-check and analyze the numbers presented to us!
In that early tiny-fraction-of-a-second time interval, all forces were unified and the unification challenge we now face, viz. the desire to formulate a theory of everything, did not exist. Gravity, the force that binds bulk matter, was the first of the four forces to pull apart and distinguish itself from the other three: electroweak force (controlling radioactive decay), strong nuclear force (binding the atomic nucleus), and electromagnetic force (binding molecules).
Contrary to what most people think, the space between galaxies, which are typically many many light years apart, is far from empty. There is, of course, the unsatisfying dark matter noted above, but there are also isolated stars and a very large number of dwarf galaxies, which have millions of stars as opposed to many billions in "normal" galaxies. In fact, given that there are far more dwarf galaxies than the ones we consider normal, perhaps we should revise the designation "normal" to apply to these much smaller galaxies.
The scale of our universe is astounding. To understand it, we need to know something about the tiniest particles that make it up, as well as astronomical distances that separate its parts. Once we have an understanding of the scale, we quickly realize that there is very little that is special about our Earth. Conditions similar to Earth likely exist on many millions, if not billions, of planets, just in our own galaxy, making the existence of extraterrestrial life forms all but certain.
I am an admirer of the author for his role in bringing science to the public and for his gift of explaining difficult scientific notions using simple language and humor. We need more people like him in this age of vilification of scientists and of science denial. But let us agree that certain scientific concepts cannot be explained in laymen's terms, no matter how much we wave our hands and how many jokes we mix in with the presentation.
The book does expose the reader to certain scientific terms, such as black holes, the Big Bang, subatomic particles, and the like, thus creating an illusion of understanding when you hear these terms in the latest science headline. For true understanding of these notions, however, there is no substitute for rolling up our sleeves and studying science in a systematic way, with no shortcuts.

2017/06/30 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon showing Trump in prison (1) Cartoon of the day: The wall that will make America safe again.
(2) Painter extraordinaire: A well-made 24-minute documentary about Iranian-American painter Ali Banisadr, who took up painting to depict the frightening sounds of the Iran-Iraq war. His more recent paintings also exude unique soundtracks, but contain elements of his new surroundings in Brooklyn. Enjoy this wonderful feast for the eyes!
(3) Volkswagen uses Nvidia GPUs for traffic flow optimization via deep learning: The German auto-maker has initiated research into quantum computing and deep learning to improve traffic flows in dense urban centers. Volkswagen previously purchased Nvidia graphics processing units to perfect its algorithms. [Source: WSJ]
(4) Information systems at US healthcare providers 'in critical condition': This week's ransomware Petya, that affected major shipping, food, and pharmaceutical companies, was particularly devastating to a Pennsylvania healthcare provider. Hospitals and other health organizations are quite vulnerable to such attacks because of poor security practices. The source of the attack has been traced to Ukraine, where officials indicate they have the situation under control. [From various print and Internet sources]
(5) Logical reasoning puzzle: You are shown three boxes and told that they contain 25 identical Burmese rubies collectively, but the distribution of the rubies in boxes is unknown to you. You are allowed to ask for any number of rubies from each box (the number you specify can be different for each box). If the box does not contain enough rubies to satisfy your request, you get nothing; otherwise, you get as many rubies as you asked for. How many would you request from each box in order to guarantee getting the maximum number of rubies in the worst case? Advanced variation: You are allowed to ask for rubies from the boxes one at a time. In other words, you ask for a certain number of rubies from box 1 and based on the outcome, you can decide how many you will ask for from box 2, and so on. What strategy would maximize your guaranteed haul in this case?
(6) Small plane crash-lands on northbound 405 Freeway, near John Wayne Airport in Irvine.
(7) Kansas cut taxes on the rich, while California raised them: Five years later, the economy in Kansas is on life support, with a $1.1 billion budget deficit, while California's economy is one of the strongest in the US, having erased a $27 billion deficit. One more piece of evidence that trickle-down economics does not work.
(8) Trump is clueless on healthcare, as on other issues: Several GOP senators have said openly that, after months of discussion on the topic, Trump knows nil about healthcare. You can't broker a deal, when you don't know anything about what's at stake. They have said that Trump, talking to them trying to gain their votes, just says "vote for the bill, it will be great," rather than engage in an informed discussion, promising something in return for their compromise on other parts.
(9) Presidential embarrassments mount: The feud between the POTUS and two MSNBC morning talk show hosts escalated today, with the hosts claiming that a senior member of the WH tried to have them tone down their critical commentaries by offering to kill an unfavorable National Enquirer story about the hosts.

2017/06/29 (Thursday): Here are four items of potential interest.
(1) Book review: Haas, Richard, A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order, unabridged audiobook on 7 CDs, read by Dan Worren, Penguin/Random-House Audio, 2017.
Cover image for 'A World in Disarray' Richard Haas is a foreign policy expert who is often compared with Henry Kissinger in terms of knowledge and influence. He was the senior Middle East adviser to President George H. W. Bush and has presided over the Council on Foreign Relations for a decade and a half. His thesis in this book is that the world is becoming increasingly more difficult to manage, as it declines in order and deviates from four centuries of recent history, what we commonly refer to as the modern era.
The end of the Cold War, far from bringing tranquility and peace to the world, has led to greater fragmentation and conflict. The relative stability and restraint of a bipolar world no longer exists in the current unipolar order, with numerous hostilities and hot spots. Haas believes that the US will likely remain the world's greatest power for the foreseeable future and warns that we cannot afford to create sudden or sharp depatures in what we do in the world. In his words, "If America comes to be doubted, it will inevitably give rise to a very different and much less orderly world."
Haas systematically reviews the world's trouble spots and offers insights into how the problems developed and how they got out of control. He believes that a system based on non-interference in the internal affairs of a state is inadequate for the 21st century. Instead, he thinks that states have a "sovereign obligation": to combat terrorism, deal with drug trafficking, prevent nuclear proliferation, and pay serious attention to climate change.
Near the end of the book, Haas offers recommendations on how to deal with the disarray. Some of his suggestions make more sense and are better argued than others, but any person interested in foreign policy challenges, particularly members of the current US administration, would benefit from seriously considering these suggestions. In particular, Haas suggests that success in executing an orderly foreign policy requires that there be order at home.
[My 4-star review of this title on GoodReads]
(2) Does this man ever learn? "Nobody respects women more than I do." Yeah, right! Only women who submit and smile, while being assaulted/insulted. Every tweet confirms, right at the very top, that this is the real Donald Trump, not the picture his supporters paint of him. Trump's latest IQ/looks insults were aimed at Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
(3) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Cardinal close to the Pope will face sexual abuse charges in court (PBS)
- Seven couples, including rabbi, charged with welfare fraud (ABC7 LA)
- Trump continues on-line bullying, as his wife pretends to fight it (CNN)
- Trump's revised travel ban, as restricted by SCOTUS, takes effect (AP)
- Trump's longtime bodyguard new focus of the Russia probe (ABC)
- Tillerson accuses WH staffers of 'unprofessional' meddling (Newsweek)
(4) Final thought for the day: A true leader leads quietly and selflessly. S/He absorbs pressures and shocks, communicating his/her thoughts and strategies to people in order to reassure and comfort them. S/He does not issue endless statements about how everything is messed up, how wonderful s/he is, and how despicable his/her opponents and critics are.

2017/06/28 (Wednesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
GIF image of a beautiful geometric pattern (1) A hypnotic, moving geometric pattern.
(2) Trump lawyer's firm steered millions in charitable donations to family members: Trump correctly identified the swamp, but deflected attention from its real denizens, which include his own family and those of his cronies.
(3) The #whitewednesdays campaign (women wearing white scarves to protest mandatory hijab laws) has become a thorn in the Iranian regime's eye, so much so that it is spreading lies about the campaign's originator, reporter Masih Alinejad, and has even sent her death threats.
(4) The beginner's creed: When you begin a new type of activity or enter a new field, celebrate your beginner status. Without becoming a beginner over and over again, you will not make any progress. [Sidebar in an article by Peter Denning, Communications of the ACM, Issue of July 2017] [Image]
(5) The mess created by two separate foreign policy tracks: One is run by Tillerson/Mattis and favors Qatar for its history of cooperation with the US, including bombings it carried out in Libya at our request. The other is run by Trump/Kushner, who are in bed with the Saudis. Tillerson is said to be frustrated by his constant running around, trying to fix the mess created by the latter, which leaves him no time to focus on the much-needed appointments in the State Department.
(6) Guru of the new age of computing: Geoffrey Hinton of University of Toronto is a great-great-grandson of the 19th-century logician George Boole, the inventor of Boolean algebra, which forms a pillar of modern computing. Hinton's work on neural networks, a key tool in the recent resurgence of the field of artificial intelligence, may prove to be equally path-breaking.
(7) Wonderful magic routine by an enchanting young girl. [4-minute video]
(8) Today's GRIT talk: Speaking at UCSB's Hatlen Theater, Professor Jason Marden of our ECE Department presented an interesting talk entitled "The Challenges that Society Brings to Engineering Design" as part of the summer session's series of public lectures. These talks are aimed primarily at students, so it was encouraging to see good attendance by summer-session students. One of the challenges of designing socio-technical systems, whether it is for power grids, transportation networks, or data centers, is the weird and unpredictable ways in which the society will use them, often creating risks and inefficiencies. Professor Marden shed some light on the challenges in designing and controlling such systems. His research entails the application of the mathematical theory of games to system design. Game theory was once confined to studying problems in economics, but increasingly, boundaries between economics, psychology, and engineering are fading. The benefits of a road system, for example, depend on how people use it and the way in which they make trade-offs in travel distance, travel time, and cost (in the case of toll roads). Having an accurate predictive model for the choices people will make is invaluable for successful design.

2017/06/27 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Photo of observation tower in Denmark (1) An impressive new observation tower in Denmark's Camp Adventure.
(2) Persian music: "Ashegham Man" ("I'm in Love"), performed by Delkash (with lyrics).
(3) Hooman Tabrizi's Persian piano on YouTube: Fifty tracks from the Iranian-American pianist's music.
(4) California's extremes: Did you know that California claims the highest and lowest points in the continental US? Mount Whitney, in the Sierra Nevada, rises to 14,508 ft (4422 m) above sea level. Badwater, so named for its super-salty water, sinks to 282 ft (86 m) below sea level and is located in the Death Valley National Park, close to the point where the Earth's hottest temperature ever has been recorded (134 in 1913). [Source: Westways, SoCal AAA magazine]
(5) Nicholas Kristof offers some practical suggestions on standing up to Trump: In his view, broad-based opposition, such as what Stephen Colbert provides, will be more successful than a handful of angry Democratic Senators. "Trump can survive denunciations, but I'm less sure that in the long run he can withstand mockery." Stated another way, "Nothing deflates an authoritarian more than ridicule."
(6) The game-changing potential of AI examined by CBS's "60 Minutes": Among other things, Watson (the program that became a "Jeopardy!" champion several years ago) is shown to learn medicine and start contributing to cancer diagnosis at a level that matches or exceeds the capabilities of highly trained oncologists.
(7) A useful gadget for cyclists: Portable side-view mirror.
(8) Cartoon of the day: The fight between Pythagoras and Einstein. [Image]
(9) Final thought for the day: Having solved all urgent problems in healthcare, education, jobs, energy, manufacturing, infrastructure, and foreign policy, Trump resumes his feud with Rosie O'Donnell on Twitter.

2017/06/26 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Photo of two armed Kurdish women circa 120 years ago (1) Armed Kursidh women thought to be from Kermanshah, ~ 120 years ago.
(2) Trump appears cornered and scared: And he exhibits increased agitation over the Russia investigation. Time magazine, issue of July 3, 2017, features former FBI director and current special counsel Robert Mueller on its cover, referring to him as "The Lie Detector." Mueller has assembled a dream-team of lawyers, but their work, like any legal proceeding, will be methodical and slow.
(2) Oil tanker explosion kills 150 in Pakistan: The tanker had overturned and was leaking fuel. The dead were collecting fuel, when the tanker exploded. It is heartbreaking that when poor, uneducated people in countries like Pakistan are not killed by terrorists among them, they are victimized by their own ignorance. Any schoolchild in a Western country would know to stay far away from an oil-leaking car or truck.
(3) Islamic eid celebration, Bollywood style! [6-minute video]
(4) The latest Trump tweets acknowledge Russian meddling in the 2016 US election: But only to blame Obama for doing nothing about it!
(5) An appeal of the $25M Trump University fraud lawsuit settlement may be allowed to proceed: Both NYT and LAT indicate that Trump may end up back in court due to a Florida woman's dissatisfaction with the 2016 settlement of a class-action lawsuit against him.
(6) [This is political humor, but it rings truer than much of what passes as news these days!] Borowitz Report: Jared Kushner calls Kim Jong-on "totally unqualified person" who only got job throuth nepotism.
(7) True to form, Trump declares victory, even though the bulk of his travel ban was struck down by SCOTUS: Only 3 justices voted to hold up the entire executive order, but all 9 were unanimous in letting stand a limited version of it. Any citizen from the banned countries, who can show some connection in the US (having relatives, admission to a university program, or job offer) will be allowed to enter. This is the overwhelming majority of people from those countries who want to enter the US. In fact, I don't know a single person from those countries who has visited the US as a tourist, without any connections here. They simply cannot afford a US pleasure trip.
(8) Forty top economists oppose the Senate version of Trumpcare: The group, which includes 6 Nobel Laureates, has written a letter to the Senate majority leader, expressing strong opposition to the bill. Meanwhile, 3 GOP Senators have indicated that they won't vote for the bill, dooming it to failure.
(9) Today's GRIT talk: Speaking at UCSB's Hatlen Theater, Professor Katy Craig of our Math Department presented an interesting talk entitled "The Math of Swarming Robots, Superconductors, and Slime Mold" as part of the summer session's series of public lectures. The bulk of attendees were summer-session students. While working at Apple, Craig thought she wanted to do math all day, thus deciding to pursue a PhD at Rutgers University. At UCSB, Craig is working on the mathematical modeling of systems of interacting agents, a field with connections to engineering, physics, and biology. Among other fascinating results, the mathematical models are capable of describing how a swarm of birds, school of fish, band of robots, or pile of slime mold exhibit complex group behaviors, using only very simple local rules. In other words, each individual agent only interacts with a few other nearby agents. These leaderless groups exhibit coordinated behavior, where birds, fish, or robots do not crash into one another, despite the totally distributed control.

2017/06/25 (Sunday): Four interesting memes/signs, along with nine other items of potential interest.
Glue stick, insteas of chapstick Wheel-of-Fortune puzzle being solved Super callous fragile racist sexist not my POTUS Meme reading, 'Drives a Mercedes, owns his own home (1) Let's see who is more crooked/corrupt, the Republicans or the Democrats? Someone researched this, and the answer isn't even close. Over the researcher's lifetime (53 years), Democrats have held the presidency for 25 years (during which they had 3 executive branch officials indicted, with 1 conviction and 1 prison sentence) and Republicans held it for 28 years (when they had 120 criminal indictments of executive branch officials, 89 criminal convictions, and 34 prison sentences).
(2) A bunch of "good guys" (and a "good gal") with guns enter a diner: Yes, it's a joke, but hardly a stretch in this age of road rage and such! [3-minute video]
(3) With cameras banned, CNN sends sketch artist to White House briefing.
(4) Reversible computing needs near-zero energy: According to laws of physics, any loss in information dissipates energy. When you add 5 and 7 to obtain 12, you lose some information, because the computation isn't reversible (you can't deduce the original inputs 5 and 7 from the output 12). Let's consider the scale of power lost in electronic circuits. A vacuum tube of early computers consumed about 5 watts and operated at 1 kHz, which represents about 10^18 kT per gate operation (k is Boltzmann's constant and T is the temperature in Kelvins). A modern transistor is much more energy-efficient, but it still consumes about 30,000 kT per operation. Specially-designed low-power circuits using existing transistors take advantage of energy recycling methods to cut power dissipation. Such circuits are more complex and cost more, but over time, they can pay for themselves through lower energy cost, particularly when energy is expensive or scarce (such as in satellites). The ultimate in energy efficiency is to approach the theoretical limit of 1 kT per operation. The futuristic vision of reversible computing can achieve this limit, at least in theory. A circuit that receives 5 and 7 at input and produces 5, the first number, and the sum 12 at output is reversible, because the two output values contain enough information to reconstruct the inputs. Reversible logic circuits are even more expensive than today's low-power circuits and will likely make sense only for applications where energy should be obtained via scavenging or is super-expensive. [Summarized from: IEEE Computer magazine, issue of June 2017, "Opportunities and Controversies of Reversible Computing," by E. P. DeBenedictis, J. K. Mee, and M. P. Frank, pp. 76-80]
(5) Wonderful high-tech magic routine: Two pairs of identical twins leave the audience and judges amazed.
(6) Tax cuts don't lead to growth: Trickle-down economics debunked once more by a new 65-year study.
(7) Bach on the banjo: Classical music and country instruments do mix! [2-minute video]
(8) Turkey drops evolution from school curricula: Claims it's too complex to teach to high-schoolers.
(9) Final thought for the day: "The love that you withhold is the pain that you carry." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Cover image of David Cay Johnston's 'The Making of Donald Trump' 2017/06/24 (Saturday): Book review: Johnston, David Cay, The Making of Donald Trump, unabridged audiobook, read by Joe Barrett, Blackstone Audio, 2016.
Johnston is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning investigative reporter who clearly has a beef with Trump, so I tried to listen to this book with an open mind, looking for evidence in lieu of opinions.
Johnston lays out a compelling case against Trump, his fraudulent deals, and his association with questionable characters to advance his goals. The book begins with the story of Trump's father, Fred, who constantly operated at the boundaries of what was legal and amassed a fortune through shady deals. Fred Trump was involved in many scandals and was investigated by a US Senate committee for profiteering from public contracts.
The book contains a lot of material about failed real-estate deals that carried Trump's name and were peddled by him and members of his family. In many cases, he had merely licensed the use of the Trump brand to the developers, while misleading buyers and investors by pretending that he was personally involved and had his own money invested in the developments. When lawsuits were filed, Trump distanced himself from the problematic projects and blamed the developers.
The author discusses Trump's Atlantic City casino business in some detail. Trump bullied his way into getting a sweet deal from New Jersey by playing coy and threatening to take his business elsewhere. We learn from this book that financial institutions, big and small, were complicit in Trump's shady deals, as they bypassed many of their own rules and regulations to accommodate him. Even when he drove his casinos into bankruptcy, he managed to get out on terms highly favorable to him.
Then there is the case of Trump University, which engaged in illegal activities on many levels. The "University" wasn't approved by authorities in states where it operated (as the law requires), its instructors weren't qualified (some were in fact convicted felons), and learners were pressured into buying more expensive packages once they enrolled in the basic package (they were coached into applying for higher limits on their credit cards, so that they could pay for the expensive packages). Trump eventually settled the Trump University lawsuit without admitting guilt.
And this is a recurring pattern. Trump threatens his adversaries with lawsuits, and files counter-suits when challenged. Then, when legal cases aren't going his way, he settles quickly. Trump has been a party in thousands of lawsuits. He takes special pride in ruining his opponents via mounting legal fees, which either make them give up or prone to settling on Trump's terms.
The author apparently has a lot of dirt on Trump, but his presentation of the case against Trump isn't systematic. Another book on my to-read list, Trump Revealed: An American Journey of Ambition, Ego, Money, and Power (by Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher), is said to be more extensive, even-handed, and journalistically sound in its treatment. I am looking forward to reading and reviewing that book.
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]

2017/06/23 (Friday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Days when Trump spoke or tweeted public lies and falshoods, January-June 2017 (1) The "failing @nytimes" has catalogued Trump's public lies and falsehoods during the first five months of his presidency, January 21 to June 21, 2017.
(2) Candidate Trump vs. President Trump on Saudi Arabia: Hypocricy in the extreme! A good example of why the Saudis want Qatar to shut down Aljazeera, which produced this video.
(3) The committee to protect Iranian men's rights has decided that the first day of summer, the longest day of the year, should be named "Yadollah," to protest the first night of winter being named "Yalda."
(4) Biking from Munich to Venice: If I were younger, I would definitely consider taking this 600-km bike path through the Alps. This travel ad showed up on my Facebook newsfeed this morning.
(5) PhD described graphically: I had seen this picture, or one similar to it, years ago, but coming across it again today, I decided to share. It is eye-opening. A PhD is the result of making a small dent on the boundary of human knowledge, pushing it outward by a tiny bit. After getting the degree, that tiny bump becomes the focus of your life and work. But looking at the big picture, you see that there is a lot more to learn and that broadening your worldview is perhaps more important than the deepening that resulted from your doctoral work.
(6) Facts vs. alternative facts. [Credit: Time magazine, issue of June 26, 2017] [Image]
(7) Why brick-and-mortar stores are closing: Amazon's purchase of Whole Foods triggered much discussion about what might happen to conventional grocery businesses, both big chains and small mom-and-pop stores. Upon each visit to a major department store or bookstore (before the latter went mostly out of business), I wonder how they make any money, given that, at times, there are more salespeople in the football-field-size store than customers. US retailers are highly inefficient. It has been observed that we have 5-6 times as much retail space per capita as other advanced countries. So, it is not surprising that the introduction of streamlined business models would lead to closure of these inefficient businesses.
(8) My $0.02 on the Philando Castile case: Facebook is abuzz with posts about how a killer cop got away with murder. So, let me present another view of this heartbreaking story. I too am upset by what seems to be a case of overzealous, or at least incompetent, police action that took a life and scarred the witnesses for life. But, guess what? We have incompetent surgeons, firefighters, paramedics, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and so on. We can't litigate every legal case on social media. We have a legal system that works pretty well, despite its shortcomings. Every single jury member is approved by both the prosecution and the defense. Jurors see a mountain of evidence and listen to back-and-forth questioning in the courtroom. They weigh various pieces of evidence and assess a multitude of testimonies with respect to relevance and reliability. Yes, there are also "incompetent" jurors who may be challenged in their reasoning and deduction abilities, but we have to work with our imperfect systems (legal, health, education, etc.), while trying to improve them. The assumption that based on a limited (perhaps biased) sample of evidence and without looking the accused in the eyes we can come to a more appropriate conclusion than a properly-constituted jury is quite dangerous.

2017/06/22 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
View of the Pacific Ocean from the top of West Camput bluffs at UCSB (1) Nature-photography challenge: I've just completed a week-long nature-photography challenge, which I had accepted from a Facebook friend. Each day, I was to post a photo of nature, animals, plants, sky, or monuments and to nominate a different friend to take up the challenge. It was a fun exercise! Shown is a bonus photo, along with links to the seven daily photos posted.
- Day 1: Vista point with a bench on the UCSB bluffs.
- Day 2: Drought-tolerant landscaping near my home.
- Day 3: Today, on the Montecito Hot Springs Trail.
- Day 4: Small nature preserve patch near my home.
- Day 5: Goleta's Devereux Slough is now almost dry.
- Day 6: Beach at UCSB's Coal Oil Point nature reserve.
- Day 7: Goleta Slough, shot looking toward SB Airport.
(2) A riddle for you: I was a French lady, but beheaded | Then a female knight, until my tail dropped | I was the first man, who lost his head | Holding back water, my crown fell instead | When to be is all of me | Who am I?
(3) Where 1746 adults think North Korea is located: A NYT scatterplot shows dots nearly everywhere in Asia! Knowledge of the country's location is correlated with preference for diplomacy over military action.
(4) NYT's practical guide on how to raise a reader: Not surprisingly, leading by example is the most important recommendation. A second important point is not to limit your children's reading material to stories.
(5) Wave: Photograph by Ray Collins, known for his masterful depiction of waves. Incredibly, he is colorblind, which has forced him to concentrate more on shapes, lines, and, most importantly, lighting. [Web site]
(6) Uber on the brink of self-destruction: This Time magazine cover feature (issue of June 26, 2017) examines the roots of Uber's troubles. Despite several missteps that could have killed many a start-up, Uber's valuation has grown 17-fold, from about $4 billion in 2013 to $68 billion in 2016. Can the company survive the latest internal problems and the associated bad publicity?
(7) Feeling down? There's an app for that. A couple of days ago, I was listening to an NPR program in which the multitude of apps claiming to provide mood uplifts were discussed. The app-makers are careful not to claim directly that their software provides mental-health counseling, as such assertions would put them in trouble with FDA. However, they do present a lot of misleading claims. The proliferation of medical and mental-health apps is putting health oversight authorities in a precarious position. FDA does not have the resources to follow up on all the apps and their associated claims, so it prioritizes its investigations, focusing first and foremost on those areas that might put lives at risk. The upside is that many people who use and benefit from these apps would not necessarily go to a qualified counselor in their absence.
(8) Deployable flight recorders: In the aftermath of several planes sinking at sea with no trace, Airbus is introducing flight data recorders that are ejectable and stay afloat. This is a step forward, although many experts prefer live-streaming of black-box flight data, which leaves nothing to chance. [Source: Reuters]
(9) Final thought for the day: "Trumpcare is not a healthcare bill. It's a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America. It hands enormous tax cuts to the rich and to the drug and insurance industries, paid for by cutting healthcare for everybody else." ~ Former President Barack Obama

2017/06/21 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon about common food described with fancy culinary language (1) Cartoon of the day: Everyday foodie menu. [By John Atkinson]
(2) Pepsico CEO's honest and funny take on the challenges of combining motherhood with a career.
(3) Half-dozen brief science/technology news headlines of the day:
- Rick Perry defends Trump's DoE budget cuts (Houston Chronicle)
- Tesla ramps up production of Model-3 battery cells (TechRadar)
- Astrophysicist issues warning as Asteroid Day nears (Daily Mail)
- China close to overtaking the US in research spending (WP)
- White House may help US solar-panel manufacturers (The Hill)
- ISS crew to experiment with baking bread in space (Time)
(4) Rep. Joe Kennedy's highly emotional appeal about rising to the challenges posed by the Trump agenda.
(5) Power causes brain damage: "If power were a prescription drug, it would come with a long list of known side effects. It can intoxicate. It can corrupt. It can even make Henry Kissinger believe that he's sexually magnetic. But can it cause brain damage?" This intriguing article answers the question in the affirmative.
(6) Women engineers needed: UK's Institution of Engineering and Technology has launched the "Engineer a Better World" campaign to promote engineering careers for women. Currently, only 9% of UK engineers are women (up from 6% a couple of years ago).
(7) Saudi-Qatari conflict escalates: The Saudis deport 15,000 Qatari camels!
(8) Jackpot $358,297,406.81: Most people would be surprised to see a lottery jackpot or a major national budget item specified with this level of precision. In the case of a lottery jackpot, it is enough to know, for the purposes of whether or not to participate, that the jackpot is around $358 million. Scientists and engineers are explicitly trained not to use too many significant digits in numerical estimates, which are approximate anyway, either due to limited-accuracy measurement of the pertinent parameters or imprecise models used to derive them. So, I was surprised as I was reading the prestigious IEEE Computer magazine in the jury waiting room today to see an article presenting the parameters of 32-bit adders and multipliers thus: Adder power 3,818,821.94 nW; Multiplier power 34,033,690.30 nW. There are two fundamental problems with the presentation here. First, these numbers, derived from a power estimation software tool, are definitely not accurate to within 0.01 nW. Second, and equally important, nW isn't the appropriate unit to use here. One million nW is a mW, so the numbers should have been 3.8 mW and 34.0 mW, which are much easier to understand, both in absolute and in relative terms.
(9) X-ray eyes in the sky: UCSB researchers, led by Professor Yasamin Mostofi, have demonstrated 3D imaging of objects through walls using Wi-Fi signals. The method uses two autonomous drones in tandem and can help with emergency search-and-rescue missions, archaeological discovery, and structural monitoring. In a demo, two autonomous octocopters take off and fly outside a house whose interior is unknown to the drones. One drone continuously transmits a Wi-Fi signal, the received power of which is measured by the other drone. The drones employ the imaging methodology to reveal the area behind the walls and generate high-resolution 3D images of the objects inside. [Adapted from ACM Tech News report, based on The UC Santa Barbara Current]

2017/06/20 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Arrows poiting to a water fountain, seen at Santa Barbara's Courthouse (1) If you don't see the water fountain, the sign will help you! [Seen at the jury assembly hall of Santa Barbara's Courthouse, where I reported today but was dismissed due to a delayed trial.]
(2) Trump's Panama Canal comments produce an Internet storm. Here are some examples:
- "I only got a 3 in AP history, because I missed the question about Trump building the Panama Canal."
- "l was surprised that he knew the Panama Canal is in Panama!"
- "The Panama Canal is being recognized more and more."
(3) Humorous/fake news headlines of the day:
- Trump orders execution of five turkeys pardoned by Obama
- Putin: We would welcome former FBI director Comey as asylee
- Trump: Panama should pay us, or we'll take the canal elsewhere
(4) The root of much evil: Drawing congressional district boundaries in a way that ensures the election of certain kinds of people is arguably one of the main sources of dysfunction in Washington. Representatives whose seats are viewed as safe have little incentive to be responsive and/or flexible. The US Supreme Court has just agreed to hear a case about whether there are constitutional limits to how far politicians can go in drawing electoral districts to maximize partisan political advantage. This is perhaps one of the most important cases to come up this year before the Court.
(5) Enjoying a perfect 70-degree day here in Santa Barbara: Feeling the pain of Californians further inland and those living in other regions of western US, where temperatures are in the 90s, 100s, and a few 110s. Phoenix is at a record-high 120 degrees. Many flights have been cancelled due to the extreme heat and power outages abound due to the high air-conditioning load.
(6) lying bots: Facebook taught bots how to negotiate; they learned to lie instead. The bots had been trained to respond based on the likelihood of the direction a human dialogue would take. However, the bots were also taught about maximizing reward, and this skill led to the bots lying, or feigning interest in a valueless item so that they can later 'compromise' by conceding it. [Source: ACM Tech News]
(7) Top 500 supercomputers: For the first time in the list's history, the US does not appear in the top 3 spots of world's most powerful supercomputers. The Chinese Tianhe-2 occupies the first two spots, while Switzerland's Piz Daint is listed as third.
(8) The Freedom Sculpture to be unveiled in special ceremonies on July 4, 2017: Farhang Foundation's crowd-funded public monument to freedom, cultural diversity, and inclusiveness, reflecting the design of the Cyrus Cylinder, weighs 20,400 lbs and is made out of powder-coated high-polish stainless steel. It is located on Santa Monica Blvd. at Century City.
(9) [Final thought for the day] A bullfighter and a boxer have died in recent days: A Spanish bullfighter was gored during a show in France, when he stumbled on his cape. A UFC fighter turned boxer died after he suffered serious injury in a bout in Canada. Cruelty to humans and animals should not even be called "sports." Other sports aren't violence-free either, but at least violence isn't the main goal of those sports.

2017/06/19 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Persian calligraphy: A Rumi poem (1) Master Esrafil Shirchi's calligraphic rendering of a Mowlavi (Rumi) poem from "The Book of Shams."
(2) English translation of the first 18 verses of Rumi's "Masnavi," perhaps the world's most beloved and influential work of poetry.
(3) Ten brief news headlines of the day:
- Trump grows more defiant as Russia probe pressures mount (CNN)
- Russia warns the US on downing of Syrian fighter jet (ABC News)
- Secret health care bill roils Senate Republicans (MSNBC)
- Choice between resignation and impeachment looming (Huff Post)
- Presidency was good for Trump,s businesses (Business Insider)
- Tehran says Saudi Coast Guard killed Iranian fisherman (AFP)
- Car rams police van, explodes in suspected Paris terror act (AP)
- London high-rise fire death toll revised to at least 79 (ABC News)
- US student recently freed in a coma by North Korea dies at 22 (AP)
- Trump reportedly close to hiring new Press Secretary (Bloomberg)
(4) My father, in four visits over thirty years: This is the title of a wonderful Fathers' Day essay by Dina Nayeri, published in The New Yorker. [A day late, but still worth reading.]
(5) Presidential posts on Fathers' Day: Obama writes about how proud he is to be Sasha's and Malia's and Trump cites his 50% approval rating according to the Rasmussen poll and boasts that it's better than Obama's.
(6) A worthy lesson in organization, social behavior, and leadership: What packs of wolves can teach us.
(7) Are 11- and 12-year-old singers taking over the world? A wonderful performance of "'O Sole Mio."
(8) Wonderful musical jam session (jazzy French, reminiscent of Jason Marz's style).
(9) [Final thought for the day] Reaction to congressional shooting: Firstly, US lawmakers are taking this event way more seriously than any school mass-shooting. Secondly, instead of discussing possible reform of gun laws, our representatives are considering improved security measures on Capitol Hill. That will prevent lawmakers from becoming future targets, but does nothing for school children's safety, which is apparently not as important!

2017/06/18 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
(1) Happy Fathers' Day to all!
(2) The race to develop the flying car is on. [Image credit: E&T magazine, issue of June 2017]
(3) For selfie enthusiasts: This selfie-taking drone, from airselfiecamera.com, is the size of a cell phone. It flies for 3 minutes on a full charge and has a range of 20 meters. [Image credit: E&T magazine, issue of June 2017]
(4) A whole bunch of musically talented kids cover Michael Jackson's "Heal the World" in this 7-minute video.
(5) Young boy amazes shoppers in a department store by playing the piano.
(6) Why net neutrality is important: Big corporations and rich people already control the broadcast and print media in the US. They want to gain control of the last frontier where common people, the lowly bloggers, small groups of activists, and the like, can have a say and compete with them in reaching the public. Let's help the politicians and tech leaders who are trying to stop them.
(7) A shortsighted decision: Cuban people are disappointed that the opening with the US, created by Obama, has been rolled back. Look at that smug expression on the photo accompaning the news story, as if signing a piece of paper is a great accomplishment!
(8) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- One dead, 10 injured in London terror attack outside a mosque (ABC News)
- US shoots down Syrian fighter plane (ABC News)
- Iran retaliates against ISIS by launching missiles into Syria (CNN)
- Trump lawyers and surrogates are building a case for firing Mueller (Newsweek)
- Trump and his lawyer give conflicting statements about Russia (ABC News)
- Leo DiCaprio surrenders art, Oscar statue in money-laundering probe (The Wrap)
(9) Fathers' Day hike with my daughter: We went for a 5-mile hike on the Montecito Hot Springs Trail. On Facebook, I joked that the hike was perhaps the most straneous Fathers' Day gift ever! I also took the opportunity to post my day-3 photo for the week-long nature challenge I have accepted from a Facebook friend. [Day-1 photo] [Day-2 photo] And here are a few more photos from today's hike.

Cover image for Carrie Fisher's 'The Princess Diarist' 2017/06/17 (Saturday): Book review: Fisher, Carrie, The Princess Diarist, unabridged audiobook, read by the author and Billie Lourd, Penguin/Random-House Audio, 2016.
Using the term "one-hit wonder" (a rock band which fizzles after producing a single hit song) as a model, Carrie Fisher may be described as a one-film wonder. Her role as Princes Leia in the original "Star Wars" trilogy (later designated Episodes 4-7, when three prequels were made) was forever etched into her acting persona. More people remember the Princess Leia character than the actress who played her. Teenage boys were infatuated with the futuristic princess and Fisher humorously ponders what they may have done with her "Star Wars" publicity photos!
This eighth book of Fisher (whose clever title is what roused my interest) isn't her first autobiographical work. The late actress was only 19 when she was cast in "Star Wars." She came across as being much older, perhaps owing to her leadership role in the film. She apparently kept a detailed diary, with poems and all, during the filming of the original "Star Wars" movie, and she uses some of those writings in this book.
The book has enjoyed a warm reception and excellent reviews. I was less impressed, however. The early parts of the book are honest and revealing. Towards the end, the revelations become a bit too detailed and less interesting to all but her most ardent fans. Fisher's reading leaves much to be desired, as she tends to yell when she wants to emphasize something or show excitement. Her daughter Billie Lourd does a better job of reading the diary segments.
In this book, Fisher acknowledges for the first time her 3-month, on-location affair with Harrison Ford (35 at the time and married with two children), during the filming of "Star Wars" in London. Why so late and why now, one may ask? Here is the reason, in Fisher's own words: "I've spent so many years not telling the story of Harrison and me having an affair ... that it's difficult to know exactly how to tell it now. I suppose I'm writing this because it's 40 years later and whoever we were then—superficially at least—we no longer are now."
Fisher feels bad about throwing these revelations at the intensely private Ford, but apparently not bad enough to continue hiding the love affair, which we are told was rather one-sided. Fisher had become smitten with Ford, who showed little interest beyond the physical aspects of their relationship. Addressing her lover, Fisher writes: "You filled my nights and emptied my days," in apparent reference to the couple's lack of shared interests or meaningful conversations.
Fisher went from Hollywood royalty, as the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, tabloid queen and king of their day, to intergalactic royalty. She became a celebrity herself, but, in her own assessment, never a "movie star." Yet, she was treated as a genuine movie star upon her December 2016 death at age 60. She was married to singer/songwriter Paul Simon for a short while and partnered with Bryan Lourd from 1991 to 1994, giving birth to one daughter, who narrates this book with her mom.

2017/06/16 (Friday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Cover image for IEEE Spectrum magazine, issue of June 2017 (1) Can we copy the brain? This question is discussed as a cover feature in IEEE Spectrum magazine's June 2017 issue. Here is a list of articles, videos, and infographics in the special report.
- From Macro to Micro: A Visual Guide to the Brain (Infographic)
- Why We Should Copy the Brain
- In the Future, Machines Will Borrow Our Brain's Best Tricks
- The Brain as Computer: Bad at Math, Good at Everything Else
- What Intelligent Machines Need to Learn from the Neocortex
- How to Digitize a Rat Brain (Video)
- AI Designers Find Inspiration in Rat Brains
- The Human Brain Project Reboots: A Search Engine for the Brain Is in Sight
- We Could Build an Artificial Brain Right Now
- Neuromorphic Chips Are Destined for Deep Learning—or Obscurity
- Watch This Robot Navigate Like a Rat (Video)
- Why Rat-Brained Robots Are So Good at Navigating Unfamiliar Terrain
- Can We Quantify Machine Consciousness?
(2) Incredible piano performance: How old is this little boy? If you just listen without looking at the video, you'd think an old maestro is performing! And, by the way, he probably needs a higher seat.
(3) Coffee drinks becoming more popular in Iran: Now even small towns have coffee bars and roadside restaurants serve coffee. Up to now, Iran has been tea country.
(4) Persian-style appetizers: Your place is empty! [Photo]
(5) Math's Ten Commandments: Violate at your own risk!
(6) UCSB Arts & Lectures free summer cinema program is back: This year, James Bond films will be featured from July 5 to August 25, Wednesdays at Campbell Hall (7:30) and Fridays at the Courthouse Sunken Garden (8:30).
July 05/07: Dr. No   |   July 12/14: From Russia with Love   |   July 19/21: Goldfinger
July 26/28: You Only Live Twice   |   August 02 only: On Her Majesty's Secret Service
August 09/11: The Spy Who Loved Me   |   August 16/18: GoldenEye   |   August 23/25: Skyfall
(7) Summer 2017 GRIT talks at UCSB: Faculty members from various campus departments showcase their research programs on Mondays and Wednesdays this summer, in an exciting and accessible format. All talks are in Hatlen Theater, beginning at 5:30 PM.
- 6/26 (M), Katy Craig (Mathematics): The Math of Swarming Robots, Superconductors, and Slime Mold
- 6/28 (W), Jason Marden (ECE): The Challenges that Society Brings to Engineering Design
- 7/05 (W), Tim Sherwood (Computer Science): The Rock We Tricked into Thinking
- 7/10 (M), Greg Ashby (Psychology): I Have No Idea How I Did That: The Remarkable Learning Abilities of the Human Brain
- 7/12 (W), Debora Iglesias-Rodriguez (Biology—EEMB): Ocean Acidification and Other Stories—Overcoming Climate Anxiety at a Time of Global Crisis
- 7/17 (M), Rod Garratt (Economics): From Bitcoin to Central Bank Digital Currencies
- 7/19 (W), Jean Carlson (Physics): Complexity and Robustness: How Biology, Ecology, and Technology Balance Tradeoffs in an Uncertain World
- 7/24 (M), Mike Mahan (Biology—MCDB): People Are Not Petri Plates: Why Antibiotics Fail
(8) Final thought for the day: Qatar supports terrorism (according to Trump and his Arab buddies), so let's sell them $12 billion worth of F-15 fighter jets (deal signed by Tillerson).

2017/06/15 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Geographic distribution of my relatives in the 23andMe database (1) My 23andMe genetic ancestry study: Apparently, I am 98.5% Middle Eastern, 0.6% North African, and 0.9% European. My Neanderthal ancestry may be part of the reason for my back being hair-free and for my tendency to sneeze after eating dark chocolate. I have been approached by seemingly unrelated people whose DNA compositions are similar to several members of my family, but so far, I have not explored or reached out to any relatives in the genetic database. Statistics show that I have 11 close family members (up to second cousin), 344 further family members (third and fourth cousins), and 922 even more distant relatives in the database.
(2) Poor Donald Trump: He can't decide whether he should play an unflinching strongman or a suffering martyr, so he alternates between the two! [Martyrdom tweets]
(3) The Trump administration has agreed to sell arms to Qatar: Sure, why not sell arms to both sides of a conflict? Qataris and Saudis will use up their arsenals much faster this way!
(4) What goes around, comes around: After recent stories about Apple poaching a leading Qualcomm engineer for its chip development project, we now learn that Google has snatched a top Apple engineer, Manu Gulati, who is said to have been heavily involved in custom chips used for the iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV. [Source: CNBC]
(5) Throwback Thursday: A pencil drawing of mine, from the 1960s, hanging in my sister's home. [Photo]
(6) Find the next term in this series: GS, Cleveland, GS, _____
(7) Zero Days: This is the title of a documentary film about the Stuxnet Internet worm that infected and disabled thousands of Iran's centrifuges during Ahmadinejad's presidency.
The discussion of whether countries are entitled to carry out cyber-attacks against their adversaries is quite complicated, even more so than conventional warfare. This is why, in the US, the president must personally authorize any cyber-attack, whereas in the realm of conventional war, only a nuclear attack needs presidential authorization. Setting this question aside, I will discuss some details of the 2016 documentary film, written and directed by Alex Gibney.
The film's narration tells us that a lot of the information needed to design and execute the attack came from Iran's own propaganda films, showing Ahmadinejad as he toured the nuclear facilities, during which parts of computer screens displaying certain details of the facilities' control systems were visible. So, as Ahmadinejad was ranting about wiping out Israel from the face of the Earth, his simpleton propaganda machine was supplying Iran's adversaries with valuable information.
Apparently, the Stuxnet malware was relatively unsuccessful in that it only put a dent in Iran's nuclear program. On the other hand, the genie of Stuxnet eventually got out of its bottle and was turned into a weapon against the US and other countries. As they say, people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. It turns out that the US digital infrastructure is among the most vulnerable in the world, making it a target of attack by state and non-state actors worldwide.
(8) Final thought for the day: Live coverage of international women's sports on Iranian TV. The censors give a new meaning to "coverage"! And why is it okay for the censors to see the women uncensored?

2017/06/14 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Time magazine cover story about Trump International Hotel in DC (1) The swamp hotel: Time magazine cover story, issue of June 19, 2017, about Trump International Hotel in DC.
(2) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- US has six nuclear plants that are set to retire [Power Engineering]
- Markets favor renewables, natural gas, while Trump clings to coal [AP]
- Apple issues $1B Green Bond in wake of Paris withdrawal [Reuters]
- Disgruntled UPS employee kills 3 co-workers, self in San Francisco [PBS]
- Trump under investigation for possible obstruction of justice [AFP]
- Amid criminal court case, Bill Cosby fighting lawsuits by 10 women [AP]
(3) Iranian women's campaign of wearing white scarves on Wednesdays to protest mandatory hijab laws gets worldwide attention.
(4) Farcical cabinet meeting: In what seems like a "dear leader" exercise worthy of North Korea, senior members of Trump's team compete to flatter him and to thank him for his leadership. No wonder he thinks that in the first few months of his administration, he has accomplished more than any other President!
(5) London high-rise engulfed in fire: At least a dozen dead in the apartment building fire, with the death toll expected to rise.
(6) Shooter who opened fire on Republican members of US Congress identified: Bernie Sanders has confirmed (according to another news report) that the attacker had worked for his campaign. He condemned the attack in very strong terms.
(7) Man kills 9-year-old daughter while teaching gun safety to his sons: I know this sounds mean, but the lesson was quite effective! The shooting is likely just stupid, but it might be sinister. I hope the cops look into the possibility that the shooting was a deliberate act under the guise of an accident (e.g., to hide rape/incest). Don't fault my conspiratorial mind; I have watched too many crime mysteries!
(8) ISIS terrorism in Iran: This film, released by Iranian authorities, shows the carnage created by ISIS terrorists at the Parliament building. It is hard to watch and shows multiple killings as they occur, but it leaves no doubt that there was a real terror attack, as opposed to a fake/staged one.
(9) Final thought for the day [regarding Jared Kushner]: You can't be one of the most powerful government figures in a democracy and not speak a single word to the people. As the Persian saying goes, "A man's faults and virtues remain hidden, until he speaks."

2017/06/13 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Iranian women delight in being admitted to a sports arena for the first time in years (1) A middle-aged woman prays, while young women around her engage in supporting Iran's national volleyball team. Women were allowed to enter the arena for the first time in years.
(2) Hypocricy galore: The Republicans attacked President Obama's inexperience for 8 years. Now, Paul Ryan defends President Trump thus: "Well, he doesn't know how any of this works."
(3) Cartoon of the day: World's first successful operation to detach smartphone from hand. [Image]
(4) Israel takes a quantum leap: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Quantum Information Science Center has begun working on a national quantum communications system demonstrator. The project will position Israel on the leading edge of research toward super-secure communication systems. Started in 2013, HU's QISC features a score of physics, computer science, mathematics, chemistry, philosophy, and engineering specialists, tasked with advancing Israel's comprehension of quantum information science and the development of quantum technologies. [Source: ACM Tech News]
(5) Artificial intelligence ready for key role in suicide prevention: Vanderbilt University Medical Center's researchers have developed machine-learning algorithms that can accurately predict suicide attempts. Using data on 5,167 Vanderbilt patients to train their computer to identify people at risk of attempted suicide, the team developed a system to anticipate attempted suicide among 12,695 randomly chosen patients with no documented history of suicide attempts. Trial results found the algorithms to be 80-percent to 90-percent accurate in forecasting a person's attempted suicide within the next two years, and 92-percent accurate in predicting an attempt within the next week. [Source: ACM Tech News]
(6) Cloud capital of the world—Seattle: Microsoft and Amazon have their major operations in the Seattle-Bellevue-Redmond axis and other major cloud contenders, including Google and Oracle, have placed development and engineering offices in the area. [Source: Fortune]
(7) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- DoE labs are bracing for major science-related job losses [Chicago Daily Herald]
- Coal industry rebound likely to be short-lived [Washington Times]
- Search on for 2 Georgia inmates, who killed 2 prison guards before escaping [AP]
- Ohio mom and 2 adult daghters killed; Suspect charged with 2 other slayings [AP]
- North Carolina math teacher accused of sexual contact with 3 students [CBS News]
- LGBTQs react negatively to Trump's tweet on FL nightclub mass murder anniversary
(8) Mideast regional research center set to open in Jordan: Bringing together unlikely collaborators from Iran, Isreal, and other MidEast countries, the center, located in Allan, will boost scientific discoveries in the war-ravaged region with the help of a powerful microscope and other state-of-the-art facilities. The center's opening has been marked by political rows and the 2010 assassination of an Iranian scientist linked to the project. [Source: AP]
(9) Weirdest dream: I dreamt last night that I had walked from San Diego to Los Angeles and was contemplating whether I should walk the rest of the way to Santa Barbara. This morning, I felt pretty tired!

2017/06/12 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
E-mail that asks you to apologize for receiving multiple copies of an announcement! (1) The English language and me: As I was driving to Los Angeles yesterday, I chanced upon an NPR program containing a comedy skit. A young English graduate, just hired by the US Coast Guard, was answering an emergency call. The caller began, "My friends and me are on a boat that is taking in water and ... ," which led to an immediate correction from the dispatcher: "My friends and I, sir." The hilarious conversation continued, with the frantic man pleading for help and the female dispatcher correcting his English at every turn, until the boat sank!
Even though English isn't my first language, I have grown quite fond of it and, just like many native speakers of the language, get irritated when I see "your" where there should be "you're," "it's" pretending to be a possessive pronoun, and "Im" used just out of sheer laziness. In the course of a single day, I receive multiple e-mail messages with silly English errors. For example, it has become commonplace, when posting an announcement on several mailing lists with possibly overlapping memberships, to offer apologies to those who receive multiple copies. The e-mail shown here, on the other hand, asks that you apologize for receiving multiple copies!
(2) Women to former FBI Director Comey: Being told why you did not resign or confront your boss when put in uncomfortable situations is exactly the same criticism women face in sexual harassment cases.
(3) Mathematicians think they can dance!
(4) Quote of the day: "[Kushner] has to tell us one thing: How does a 36-year-old, who never worked in a job his daddy didn't buy, becomes the second most-powerful man in America—right behind Putin?" ~ Bill Mahr
(5) Cartoon of the day: Destructive tweets! [Image]
(6) Feeling accomplished: My new Honda Accord did fit in the newly cleared garage. As in many Californian residences, my garage had become a storage room and workshop. Buying a new car motivated me to clear the garage to help protect it from vandalism. All that's left is the nontrivial task of getting rid of, or finding places for, all the stuff taken out of the garage!
(7) Fake news of the Islamic variety: In Iran, fake news is the norm, yet the rebroadcasting of old, debunked allegations that reporter Masih Alinajad had been raped is a sign of the regime's extreme fear of the highly successful anti-mandatory-hijab activities of Ms. Alinejad. They spread fake news from broadcast and print media under the regime's control, with no opportunity for the accused to say anything in defense. But the Iranian people know better whom to trust.
(8) Eight brief news headlines of the day:
- Pressure in Britain builds for Theresa May to step aside
- North Korea trolls Trump, threatens to nuke NYC
- Nearly 2.5 million pounds of Tyson chicken products recalled
- Blasphemous Facebook post leads to death sentence in Pakistan
- Trump's approval rating hits a new low
- France offers 4-year research grants to scientists who move there
- Iran beats Uzbekistan 2-0, qualifies for soccer World Cup 2018
- Golden State beats Cleveland in 5th game to become NBA champ
(9) Final thought for the day: "That which the fountain sends forth returns again to the fountain." ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The speakers and moderator of UCLA's Kiarostami symposium 2017/06/11 (Sunday): Symposium honoring Abbas Kiarostami: Held in a conference room on the third floor of UCLA's Royce Hall beginning at 3:00 PM today, the program for "Abbas Kiarostami: The Man and His Arts" consisted of four speakers elaborating on various aspects of the late Iranian filmmaker's life and works, ending with a Q&A segment moderated by Dr. Nayereh Tohidi.
Seated from left to right in the photo are Ahmad Kiarostami (Abbas' son), Dr. Nayereh Tohidi (Cal State Northridge), Dr. Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak (University of Maryland and UCLA), Dr. Shiva Balaghi (Brown University), and Dr. Hamid Naficy (Northwestern University).
Abbas Kiarostami [1940-2016] was known primarily as a filmmaker, who was perhaps better recognized and more appreciated outside Iran than within his own country. For this reason, he was occasionally accused of catering to the tastes of international film festivals in his filmmaking. He was also an accomplished poet, photographer, and graphic designer. As is rather common in Iranian cinema, Kiarostami wrote his own filmscripts.
Dr. Balaghi, a cultural historian, spoke under the title "On Kiarostami's Poetic Landscapes." She noted that Kiarostami was enrolled in Honarkadeh (art school of Tehran University) in the 1960s, where he began designing movie posters to support himself. He was part of a talented group of students, many of whom became giants of Iran's arts scene. Even after he became an established artist, he continued to work on movie posters, including some for his own films. He aspired to bring the two milieus of photography and cinema closer to each other, in the sense of making photographs tell stories in the same way that films do. Nature (trees in particular) forms an important theme in Kiarostami's photographs and films.
Dr. Karimi-Hakkak, whose extensive publications include a volume containing English translations of Kiarostami's Persian poems, spoke under the title "Abbas Kiarostami: The Belated Poet." He was a belated poet in two different senses. First, he followed an 1100-year tradition of Persian poetry. Second, he emerged as a poet in the late 1990s, when he was approaching 60. Dr. Karimi-Hakkak presented several examples of Kiarostami's poems, along with English translations. The poems were all rather simple, yet one can attribute deep meaning to them. Here are a couple of examples:
A white foal / emerges through the fog / and disappears / in the fog
How merciful / that the turtle doesn't see / the little bird's / effortless flight
Dr. Naficy began his talk entitled "The Artful Cinema of Abbas Kiarostami" with the observation that the filmmaker was already well-known in Europe in 1995, when the magazine Cahiers du Cinema put his photo on its cover, referring to him as "Kiarostami le Magnifique" and devoting 50 pages to his life and works. He then proceeded to outline key characteristics of Kiarostami's films, which include frequent use of roads and automobiles, long stretches of time when his films had no significant female characters, temporal precision and economy (from his advertising background), institutional or government-supported filmmaking, frequent use of children as film subjects, apparent realism, sly civility, lone-male characters on a quest, use of non-professional actors and improvisation, and synchronous sound recording (unusual in the cinema of Iran). Dr. Naficy then elaborated at length on the notion of sly civility, which manifests itself as everything being veiled in the Iranian culture. In addition to veiling of women, there are high-walled residences, inner rooms, the khodi-gharibeh dichotomy, ritual courtesy (taarof), dissimulation (taqqiyeh), and inner sincerity (safa-ye baaten).
Mr. Kiarostami Jr. spoke briefly and showed a short film entitled "Take Me Home," assembled from photographs Kiarostami took in Italy over a period of two decades. The photographs show architecturally interesting neighborhoods, in which inclined passageways consist of numerous stairs. A soccer ball is shown bouncing down the stairs, with a little boy eventually coming to retrieve it and take it home. The speaker announced that a film about Kiarostami, "76 Minutes and 15 Seconds with Abbas Kiarostami" will be screened on Wednesday, July 5, 2017, at Santa Monica Public Library. Check out the Facebook page "Docunight" for details.
During the Q&A segment, a number of interesting observations were offered. For example, it is often stated that Kiarostami's films are apolitical, whereas it is possible to interpret his work as containing subtle political messages. His films are a unique genre, sitting between fiction and documentary. They teach us to respect nature, including animals. His films often lack a clear storyline, a style that he pursued even more devoutly later in life. He thought that he should pose questions, not provide answers. He wanted the audience to be active participants in his films, rather than be told a story from beginning to end.
[Note: As I was exiting UCLA's Royce Hall, I caught a minute of music coming from inside the main auditorium, as a performance of "Les Miserables" was concluding. When outside, I snapped these photos of Royce Hall and Powell Library, where this year's graduates were having early photo-shoots.]

Cover image of the book 'Fifty Shades of Grey' 2017/06/10 (Saturday): Book review: James, E. L., Fifty Shades of Grey, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Becca Battoe, Random House Audio, 2012.
I remember the hoopla surrounding the release of "50 Shades" more than five years ago and how it was immediately dissed by critics as mediocre soft-porn, aimed at sexually frustrated housewives; I do realize the sexism in the latter statement, but want to set the stage for my review by emphasizing the bizarre success of this book.
Anyway, curiosity got the better of me and I checked out the audiobook version, when it appeared on the list of immediately available titles at my local library, via the OverDrive smartphone app. I could stomach listening to a tad less than 1/3 of the book, before quitting. I will explain why, shortly.
I also noticed the availability of the 2015 book Grey, with the intriguing idea of telling the exact same story from the vantage point of the male protagonist; "50 Shades" is told by the young woman, who succumbs to the charms of a complicated rich man with a sex play/torture-room in his house.
"Grey" also proved uninteresting to me, an avowed feminist, so I listened to less than 1/5 of it. I did fast-forward to the final chapter of "Gray" in hopes of finding a plot twist of some sort that would absolve the boring initial chapters, but found none. This was the first time I was perusing a story told from two different vantage points. In the hands of an abler writer, this device presents interesting possibilities, as each story reinforces the other and supplies the parts between the lines, that is, what one character thinks or what s/he does when alone or not with the other main character.
The female protagonist of "50 Shades" and "Grey" is a university student about to graduate. She goes to interview a successful, but emotionally damaged, business magnate, who is scheduled to deliver the commencement address at her school. She does the interview as a substitute for her close friend, editor of the school paper, who comes down with an illness and fears that the schedule of the busy executive would not allow a rescheduling before her graduation. The rest of the story is a highly predictable Cinderella tale, adorned with the explicit description of sexual acts of all kinds between the domineering, control-freak executive and the role-playing submissive young woman.
There are quite a few interesting tidbits about this book, which is the first volume in a trilogy that also includes Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, all three volumes having been turned into movies starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan. The author is a British woman, who wrote under the gender-hiding pen name "E. L. James" (a la J. K. Rowling), presumably to increase her chances of becoming a successful writer. Sure enough, the book climbed the NYT best-sellers list rather quickly, and it has been selling briskly since (worldwide sales stand at more than 100 million copies, according to Amazon.com).
[My two-star review on GoodReads]

2017/06/08 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest. (1) Putting a face on one of Tehran's terror victims: Mahdieh Harati, university instructor, was visiting the Parliament as an advocate for the homeless.
(2) A whole lotta negotiating going on: The UK will have to renegotiate 759 different treaties when it exits the EU. [Source: Time magazine, issue of June 12, 2017]
(3) When musicians channel Radiohead on a Tehran street!
(4) A serio-comedy Persian poem for readers who speak the language.
(5) Eric Trump complains about lack of morals and civility in society: I hope he sees this compilation, which juxtaposes his comments with very civil remarks by his dad!
(6) Deep learning improves machine translation: What a difference a few years make! The quality of Google's machine translation is steadily rising, owing to the use of deep-learning neural-network technology. An encoder network and a decoder network are trained as a pair for each choice of source and target languages. So, the larger the volume of translations between a pair of languages, the greater the quality improvement. These techniques, along with pre-processing of the text, when dealing with languages from different linguistic families, have led to amazing results. [Source: Communications of the ACM, issue of June 2017] [Image]
(7) Paying attention: While we were absorbed by the Comey testimony, the House was considering gutting the financial regulations known as "Dodd-Frank" and giving banks, that we once bailed out, a free hand to cause havoc again. They are also weakening the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to boot.
(8) Computer engineering capstone project presentation day: The spring 2017 quarter is coming to an end and CE graduating seniors are proud to showcase projects they have been pursuing for the past nine months. One of these projects, FLIR Helios, consists of a wireless motion-detecting camera, with infra-red capabilities, powered by solar cells. [Photos]
(9) [Final thought for the day] Cherry-picking by the Republicans: NYT is a fake news outlet, but when it publishes something nasty about a Trump critic, it is dead on. Comey cannot be trusted. But the President feels exonerated, because Comey confirmed that he had told the President he was not personally under investigation for ties to Russia. Yes, but Comey also said, multiple times in his testimony today, that he believed Trump lied about important issues.

2017/06/07 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Image of a robot reading a hypothetical book 'Neocortex for Neophytes' (1) What intelligent machines need to learn from the neocortex: This is the title of an article in IEEE Spectrum, issue of June 2017, opining that with new discoveries, made possible by reverse engineering the human brain and the burgeoning field of artificial intelligence, a new epoch of intelligent machines is finally within reach.
(2) Cartoon of the day: The two Donalds. [Image]
(3) Terror attacks in Tehran: Multiple gunmen and a suicide bomber attack Iran's parliament building in central Tehran and Khomeini's shrine in south Tehran. ISIS has claimed responsibility. Initial reports indicate a dozen deaths and many more injuries. Some sources claim that the gunmen were dressed as women (with chadors). One report indicates that one or more attackers were women.
(4) Persian music: Chorale de Bahar and Darya Dadvar perform a wonderful piece by Mehrdad Baran, who set Fereydoon Moshiri's famous "Koocheh" poem to music.
(5) Incredible athleticism in jump-rope competition! [Video]
(6) Quote of the day: "A man's age can be measured by the degree of pain he feels as he comes in contact with a new idea." ~ Anonymous
(7) Santa Barbara's summer concerts in the parks: This year's series is set to begin on Thursday, July 6, with a performance by the PettyBreakers, a tribute band to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Other scheduled concerts include The Hollywood Stones (Rolling Stones tribute, July 13), Crooked Eye Tommy (SoCal blues, July 20), and Captain Cardiac and the Coronaries (50s and 60s rock-n-roll, July 27).
(8) For-profit college stocks up sharply since Trump's election: Many such colleges have been caught scamming both their students and the federal government and several were forced to shut down as a result of their shady practices over the past few years. Now, emboldened by a President, whose own for-profit "university" was sued and chose to settle by agreeing to $25 million in refunds to students (a virtual admission of guilt, given how Trump operates), these colleges think that the feds are more likely to look the other way, when they make misleading claims about their students' job prospects.
(9) Attending design fair at UCSB: Students of our College of Engineering's ECE and ME Departments presented their very impressive capstone projects and TED-like talks based on a few of them at Corwin Pavilion this afternoon. Computer engineering students will follow suit tomorrow. [Photos]

2017/06/06 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Iranian woman holding a protest sign at an election rally for President Rouhani (1) A question posed to President Rouhani: At a political rally held at the largest sports stadium in Tehran, where men and women co-mingled, this woman's sign asks whether she will be allowed into the stadium even after the election. This is a pointed reference to women being barred from attending most sporting events, on the grounds that the mixing of men and women would be un-Islamic.
(2) Doctors charged in huge insurance fraud scheme: A total of 26 people were indicted for crimes that victimized 13,000 patients and defrauded at least 27 insurance companies. Medical billing/management company owners Tanya Moreland King, 37, and her husband, Christopher King, 38, both of Beverly Hills, are accused of recruiting doctors and pharmacists to prescribe unnecessary treatments and medications.
(3) Obamacare isn't failing: It is being methodically sabotaged to create a healthcare crisis, which will then be "remedied" with Trumpcare. This is like giving to a sick person medications that worsen the condition, so that subsequent placebo treatment would seem like relief!
(4) The British PM defends London's Mayor against ignorant remarks by Trump: How many world leaders with diverse political leanings should diss Trump before his supporters come to their senses? Even in the US, polls show that more people support impeachment efforts than Trump policies.
(5) Child marriages: Hearing about child brides, we immediately think of a backward country in Asia or Africa. In the highly advanced USA, more than 167,000 people under age 17 married in 38 states during the 2000-2010 decade, and 27 states set no true minimum age for marriage. [Source: Time magazine, issue of June 12, 2017]
(6) Cartoon of the day: Table set up for climate talks in Paris. [Image]
(7) NASA's first mission to the sun will launch in the summer of 2018: The sun is actually closer to us, and easier to get to, than Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, or Pluto (which are 4-39 times further). What has prevented NASA from flying to the sun so far has been its inability to make vehicles that can withstand the sun's immense heat as they get close to it. This problem has apparently been solved and NASA is preparing for a close-up examination of our star.
(8) Every moment, a new fruit arrives from this orchard: The heading for this item is the English translation of a Persian saying used to denote a continuing pattern of bad behavior or delivery of bad news. Today, it was revealed that fake news stories planted by Russia may have been responsible for the rift between several Arab countries and Qatar, which has been accused of aiding and abetting terrorist groups.
(9) Final thought for the day: "Memory is a snare, pure and simple; it alters, it subtly rearranges the past to fit the present." ~ Mario Vargas Llosa

2017/06/05 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Jared Kushner on the cover of Time magazine (1) Jared Kushner makes the cover of Time magazine (issue of June 12, 2017), but I bet not in the way he would have preferred!
(2) Alternative diets: The cover story of Time magazine, issue of June 5, 2017, is about the diversity of diet plans, both legit and questionable, that are available. The short version of the lengthy story is that if one plan does not work for you, don't give up. Try other plans, because a match for your specific conditions and needs likely exists.
(3) Nonsensical word of the week: Covfefe. [T-shirt photo]
(4) Jean Sammet dies at 89: She was a pioneer of computing, one of the first software engineers, co-inventor of a major programming language (COBOL), and author of an influential book on programming languages (which I studied as a graduate student). RIP!
(5) Supreme Court manterruptions: Based on analysis of SCOTUS data from 2011 to 2015, female justices were 3 times as likely to be interrupted as male justices. [Source: Time magazine, issue of June 12, 2017]
(6) On the importance of accurate targeting in advertising campaigns: Though I am not a Muslim, I regularly receive donation requests and advertising from various sources that use Islamic notions in their appeals. This donation request from Zaytuna College is the latest example. It uses the start of the month of Ramadan as the pretext. While I might be persuaded to help a worthy cause that happens to benefit an Islamic society, I certainly will not do it because of the month of Ramadan or any other event on the Islamic calendar.
(7) Putin's Sunday night interview with Megyn Kelly: Far from revealing anything about himself or Russia, Putin used the NBC program's platform masterfully to spread propaganda and to demean the US. He claimed at one point that hacking is quite easy, so the US election hacks could have been done by Americans in a way to frame Russia. Previously, he had said that his government was not involved, but the hacks could have been the work of "patriotic Russians," operating independently. While Kelly pressed Putin on a number of issues, she was no match for his dodging and conniving ways.
(8) Tensions rise in the Persian Gulf region: The complex situation created by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and UAE cutting ties with Qatar, over what those countries consider Qatar's support for terrorist organizations (Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas) has raised worries about possible instability in the region. The US is nominally against Qatar, given Trump's very recent reaffirmation of support for the Saudis. However, the US has a large military base in Qatar, which will have to be moved if it is determined that the charges of Qatar sponsoring terrorist organizations are valid. Meanwhile, Iran is all smiles over the prospects of a major rift in the alliance of Sunni-majority countries. Qatar's stance has thus thrown a monkey wrench in what appeared to be a strong display of solidarity of Sunni Arabs in their opposition to Iran's regional aspirations.
(9) Final thought for the day: "[I]n the civilization of the spectacle, intellectuals are of interest only if they play the fashion game and become clowns." ~ Mario Vargas Llosa

2017/06/04 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Image of American flag, made of 0s and 1s, being unraveled (1) Hacking democracy. [Image credit: Time magazine]
(2) An amazing piano performance: Saman Ehteshami masterfully mixes classical and Persian music at Tehran's Vahdat Auditorium.
(3) Indian comedian tells hilarious ethnic jokes: Russell Peters is an equal-opportunity offender. I know, with this name, he shouldn't make fun of a Chinese guy named "Anthony"! In one of his funniest routines, he explains why he doesn't do any Arab jokes.
(4) Operatic news: "Impeachera" is inspired by the "Opera Man" skits Adam Sandler used to do on SNL.
(5) The President has been very clear: Yeah, if we don't understand Trump's incoherent and flip-flopping statements, we are the problem!
(6) Quote of the day: "A person who does not read, or reads little, or reads only trash, is a person with an impediment: he can speak much but he will say little, because his vocabulary is deficient in the means for self-expression. This is not only a verbal limitation. It represents also a limitation in intellect and imagination. It is a poverty of thought, for the simple reason that ideas, the concepts through which we grasp the secrets of our condition, do not exist apart from words." ~ Mario Vargas Llosa
(7) This should settle the question of whether the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism. [Image]
(8) Sundays and the new 7:00 PM dilemma: I have been a regular watcher of the CBS newsmagazine "60 Minutes" on Sunday evenings, because I enjoy its in-depth stories and high journalistic standards. Beginning tonight, the new NBC show "Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly" will air opposite "60 Minutes." Given her notoriety, Kelly will likely attract interesting guests, such as Vladimir Putin, who is on tonight. Decisions, decisions!
(9) Final thought for the day: "Reading is a protest against the insufficiencies of life." ~ Mario Vargas Llosa

2017/06/03 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Diagram illustrating the puzzle/paradox due to Torricelli (1) Mathematical puzzle/paradox: Known as "Torricelli's Trumpet," the paradox goes like this. Consider the area on the x-y plane between the curve y = 1/x, the x-axis, and the vertical line x = 1. The area is infinite (why?), so you cannot paint it with any finite amount of paint, no matter how thin the coating. Now, rotate the area around the x axis, to generate a trumpet-shaped volume. This volume is finite (why, and how much is it?), and thus can be filled with a finite amount of paint.
That finite amount of paint now covers not only the surface in the first part of the statement above, but infinitely many other surfaces. How is this possible?
(2) In the year I was born, the most popular book was The Miracle of the Bell, by Russell Janney, which I have not read yet. Have you read yours? [List of books]
(3) Quote of the day: "Concern for the unfortunate is not socialism." ~ Hubert Humphrey
(4) Nations are not like businesses: Deal-making is a hallmark of businesses, which seek the most favorable terms possible in each deal, regardless of past dealings and track records. Countries, and societies more generally, do have interests, which they often try to safeguard against abuse by other countries, but the similarity with businesses ends here. In the case of an international climate accord, advanced industrial countries, which got a head start in advancing their economies via indiscriminate use of polluting technologies (when they were not yet understood to harm the environment irrevocably) must give less developed countries a break, so that they can do some catching up. Fairness of a deal in this context can be defined as a balance in per-capita total pollution, including damage already done. So, if an advanced country has polluted way more in the past than an underdeveloped or developing country, it must be prepared to face deeper cuts in future.
(5) US CEOs show foresight: Major business leaders continue to denounce the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. At least a couple of tech advisers to the President have quit their positions in protest. This is the second mobilization of business leaders against misguided Trump administration policies. The first one came after Trump's travel ban order, which, by the way, appears to be headed to the US Supreme Court for resolution.
(6) Time-lapse video provides an awe-inspiring view of the Milky Way Galaxy.
(7) My little fountain: The pump I had for several years died a couple of days ago. Today, I installed a replacement pump that, to my delight, comes with LED lights. And here is my little fountain at night!
(8) Awards night at my son's Aikido school: Following Aikido demos, Judo demos, and a potluck dinner, students received their certificates and belts.
(9) An evening with UCSB Middle East Ensemble: The thick program booklet for tonight's program at Lotte Lehman Concert Hall offers signs that this is an academic unit. Every piece is meticulously documented with genre, history, lyrics, and translation! A selection from the highly enjoyable 3-hour program follows. [Armenian war dance] [Solo dance to the long instrumental introduction of an Arabic tune] [Greek song and dance] [Music and dance from Luxor in southern Egypt] [Persian santoor composition by Bahram Osqueezadeh] [Persian love song, "Emshab Shab-e Mahtabeh" ("Tonight is a Moonlit Night")] [Iranian folk song "Majnoon Naboudom" ("I Wasn't Crazy—Before You")] [Closing song and dance]

Photos of Shirin Ebadi, Sarah Leah Whitson, and Asli Bali 2017/06/02 (Friday): [Report on a gathering at UCLA] Behind the Veil: Women's Rights in Iran:
A conversation, held this evening at the newly-opened UCLA Luskin Conference Center, included Dr. Shirin Ebadi (Nobel Peace Laureate, and former Iranian judge and attorney, now living in exile) and Sarah Leah Whitson (Executive Director, Human Rights Watch, Middle East and North Africa Division), with Professor Asli Bali (UCLA School of Law) moderating the discussion. Ms. Shirin Ershadi acted ably as translator for Dr. Ebadi, who spoke in Persian. The questions had been supplied to the discussants in advance so as to facilitate the translation task.
This event was sponsored by the Los Angeles Committee of Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) Alliance. Photography and video recording were disallowed, in part to safeguard the identities of participants, who may encounter difficulties during possible future trips to Iran. In fact, for that same reason, four of the seven members of the host committee were listed as "anonymous" in the program leaflet. The organizers video-recorded the event (showing only the panelists) on Facebook Live.
Dr. Ebadi was asked about her views on the re-election of President Rouhani and the impressive 70% voter turnout. She indicated that, given the concentration of power in the hands of the Supreme Leader, Rouhani is unlikely to accomplish more in his second term than he did over the past four years, which is pretty much nothing, particularly in the area of human rights. The situation of political prisoners shows no improvement under Rouhani, who often dismisses questions about political prisoners by saying that the judiciary isn't under his control. This is disingenuous at best. Charges against these political prisoners are brought by the Ministry of Intelligence, which is definitely under Rouhani's control. She deems the voter turnout unimportant, quipping that even if the turnout were 90%, Rouhani would still lack the power and will to introduce change.
Ms. Whitson was less harsh in this regard. She considers the verdict of Iranian people, within the very narrow choice they were given, as being significant, because it signaled their preference for rapprochement with the West as well as the limited opening in the area of citizen's rights that Rouhani promised. Ms. Whitson also questioned the sincerity of some who show support for women's rights in the Middle East, as they appear to be primarily motivated by a desire to ridicule those countries, rather than offer constructive suggestions. This is why HRW recognizes different shades of oppression (Iranian women, e.g., are much more engaged in the country's economy than those in other Islamic countries of the region).
According to Ms. Whitson, HRW uses the governments' own declarations about economic advances and opening up of the society to argue for greater opportunities for women. Even though it is nominally against Iran's own laws, there are still plenty of employment ads that are explicitly directed at men. An HRW brochure, entitled "It's a Men's Club: Discrimination Against Women in Iran's Job Market," was distributed at the event. HRW is working diligently on applying pressure in areas of salary equity, sexual harassment policies, maternity leave, and the like, as practical means for improving women's lives.
Dr. Ebadi related a memory from the early days of the Islamic Republic, even before there was a president or a constitution. The very first law passed was one that allowed men to take four wives. She indicated that Iran's Islamic Revolution, more than representing a political movement, was an uprising of men against women! The feminist movement in Iran is perhaps the strongest movement in the country. Women have scored some victories in correcting certain discriminatory laws, but there is still a long way to total equality. These small victories had a high cost in terms of lives lost and long prison terms served. Nearly all ~30 feminists in Iranian prisons have been artificially charged with national security crimes in order to inflate their jail terms, despite the fact that their activities pertain only to civil rights. Iranian women will no doubt prevail in their fight to attain equality, and their efforts will bring democracy to Iran.
On the subject of Islamist terrorism, Dr. Ebadi complained that the Western media do not give due coverage to terrorism against Muslims in various parts of the world, such as East Asia and Chechnya. She observed that Islamist terrorism in the West is often not carried out by new arrivals (such as refugees), but rather by second- and third-generation immigrants. We must ask ourselves why these immigrants turn violent. Embracing new immigrants and giving them support and skills, instead of isolating and demeaning them, will go a long way toward preventing future acts of terrorism. When, decades ago, immigrants were accepted with open arms and given opportunities, they became key contributors to the progress of America.
On the question of whether Islam can ever be reconciled with women's rights, Dr. Ebadi stated that, just like there are multiple brands of Christianity, Islam has many interpretations. The problem is that clerics with more liberal views, who condemn the subjugation of women under the guise of Islam, have been sidelined by the ruling authorities and most do not dare to speak up. Also, activists must remember that they can effect change only if they speak the language of the people, rather than engage in academic discourse with limited readership.
Dr. Ebadi indicated that she is all for secularism, but that change cannot occur overnight. The cause of women's oppression, in any society, is primarily cultural. We should remember that people of Iran voted to approve a religion-based constitution, so a transition to secular government will take time. Reforming laws can help hasten this transition. The purpose of laws isn't just establishment of order but also elevation of the prevailing culture. Unfortunately, the situation in Iran has been reversed in that citizens are much more enlightened that the laws. We should all strive to work on cultural elevation.
On the question of "blood money" discrimination (fines for crimes being dependent on the victim's religion), Dr. Ebadi indicated that whereas some progress has been made, in that followers of the three "recognized" religions are now treated like Muslims, the problem persists for other minorities, such as Baha'is and Izadis. A Muslim can still kill a Baha'i, without facing any mandatory punishment (doling punishment is at the discretion of the court/judge).
A coffee/tea-and-desserts reception preceded the main event. The Luskin Conference Center Ballroom was jam-packed. The organizers had indicated that there were a limited number of 250 seats, thus requiring pre-registration of attendees. It seemed to me that there were perhaps close to 400 seats in the venue; some of the seats may have been occupied by invited attendees, who were not counted in the 250-person limit.

2017/06/01 (Thursday): Here are six items of potential interest.
US map, showing the most frequently misspelled word during 2017 by state (1) The most misspelled words in the US, by state: "Beautiful" and "Vacuum" make multiple showings, which is understandable, but why are "Tomorrow," "Gray," and "Ninety" there at all? In a previous edition of this list, Hawaiians were apparently unsure about how to spell their state's name!
(2) Quote of the day: "We had decided to send medicine to Africa; however, the instructions on all said 'take on full stomach'." ~ Charles Bukowski
(3) Engineering ethics and learning from failures: Many failures of structures and other engineered systems are characterized as "accidents," while they are really due to foreseeable failure mechanisms that were missed or purposefully ignored during the design process. A good example is the collapse of an elevated section of Atlanta's Interstate 85 during a fire in late March. The elevated road passed over a highway department storage area, containing flammable material that contributed to the overly hot fire, which compromised the concrete-and-steel beams under the roadway. So, a natural question is why the possibility of such a fire was not foreseen and the structure not designed to withstand it. Shouldn't ensuring that a super-hot fire cannot start beneath an elevated roadway be part of its design? What about fires on the roadway itself, resulting, e.g., from overturned tanker-trucks? [Based on a column by Henry Petroski in the summer 2017 issue of ASEE Prism magazine]
(4) Governors launching US Climate Alliance: So far, governors of California, Washington State, and New York have joined in the movement to counteract Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. Interestingly, Russia, China, and many other countries have reaffirmed their support for the Accord, while France has sharply criticized the US decision.
(5) UCSB Wind Ensemble concert: Tonight, I attended an enjoyable performance featuring the music of Frank Ticheli, currently an artist-in-residence at UCSB. Here is the program, with a brief description of some pieces.
- "Dancing on Water" (2015).
- "Rest" (2011): Inspired by a Sara Teasdale poem and dedicated to a friend who lost his son at age 1.5.
- "Angels in the Architecture" (2011): Depicts a conflict between light and darkness and floats into and out of a popular Hebrew song; comissioned by the Sydney Opera House and first performed there.
- "San Antonio Dances" (2011): Two-movement tribute to the Texas town, the Alamo, and Tex-Mex music.
- "Song for Aaron" (2011; mvt II of a clarinet concerto): Tribute to Aaron Copeland, one of three American composers honored in the three movements.
- "Blue Shades" (1997).
Recording was disallowed, so I am posting a sample of Ticheli's music from YouTube. [16-minute video]
(6) [Final thought for the day] US in dubious company: The only other two countries not signing the Paris Climate Accord are Syria and Nicaragua, with the latter actually indicating that the Accord isn't tough enough!

2017/05/31 (Wednesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
A muslim woman meets the mother of the hero who died defending two Muslim women (1) This is where heroes come from: A Muslim young woman thanks the mother of the heroic young man who gave his life defending two Muslim women against a bigot. The facial expressions say it all.
(2) Apple snatches top Qualcomm engineer for its chip development project: According to Fortune, Esin Terzioglu, who oversaw the engineering aspects of Qualcomm's core communications chip business, will be joining the team building Apple's A-series processing chips. News of the hire has fueled fresh speculation that Apple, now in the midst of a messy legal dispute with Qualcomm, wants to develop a system-on-chip that pairs a baseband modem (currently obtained from Qualcomm and Intel) with an A-series app processor.
(3) Artificial leaf technology may help combat climate change: University of Central Florida chemist Fernando Uribe-Romo developed artificial leaf technology that can remove carbon dioxide from the air and convert sunlight energy into organic compounds usable as fuels. Harvard University energy professor Daniel Nocera developed a bionic leaf device that uses sunlight to convert water and engineered microbes into energy-dense liquid fuels. University of Illinois at Chicago research scientist Amin Salehi-Khojin developed another artificial leaf that converts sunlight and carbon dioxide into hydrocarbons, including liquid fuels. While these developments are likely many years away from commercialization, artificial leaf technology is seen as a potentially vital tool in the urgent fight against climate change, particularly in developing countries. [Source: ASEE First Bell newsletter]
(4) Water desalination with graphene sieves: University of Manchester scientists have developed a graphene oxide membrane that can filter even nanoparticles out of water, making the water suitable for human consumption. University of Manchester professor of materials physics Rahul Raveendran Nair says, "The problem was that when you put the membrane in water the sieve became larger. Now we've solved that problem, so now we can take this salty water, put it back in our new filtration unit, where we can filter out even the smallest sodium chloride." According to UN forecasts, some 1.8 billion people will face water scarcity by 2025, so producing affordable clean water would be a major help. [Source: Reuters]
(5) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Kabul explosion kills 90, injures 100s, including 11 Americans (ABC News)
- Trump asks world leaders to call him on his cell phone (Huff Post)
- White House Communications Director resigns, other changes expected (AP)
- Kathy Griffin fired by CNN for her beheaded-Trump photo (Variety)
- Hiker plunges to his death, while taking selfie at waterfall (Huff Post)
- White House not inclined to meet Paris accord's emissions goals (Newsweek)
(6) [Final thought for the day] A frightening US brain drain may be on the horizon: France's President Macron repeats his invitation to US climate-change scientists to join European researchers in France, because they will be welcome there. Given pending US budget cuts in all areas of science, mass exodus of researchers in many scientific fields is a distinct possibility.

Cover image for Jared Diamond's 'Collapse' 2017/05/30 (Tuesday): Book review: Diamond, Jared, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, abridged audiobook on 8 CDs, read by Christopher Murney, Penguin Audio, 2004.
In the course of human history, many societies have collapsed. Examples include the Mayans, Easter Islanders, and Greenland's Norse settlers. The underlying causes of almost all of these collapses seem to have been environmental problems. A collapse is defined as drastic decrease in human population and/or sociopolitical complexity, a much direr fate than a decline. Societal collapse is far from inevitable, as demonstrated by many civilizations that have existed continuously for long periods of time. Examples of long-lived, prospering societies are found in Japan and Java.
Diamond advances a five-point framework for understanding collapses. 1. Human impact on the environment and inadvertent resource exhaustion or deforestation. 2. Climate change. 3. Relations with friendly neighboring societies. 4. Relations with hostile societies. 5. Political, economic, social, and cultural factors. A common characteristic of societal collapses is that they tend to occur a short time, perhaps as little as a decade, after the society reaches its peak in terms of wealth and power (Mayans, the Soviet Union).
In the environmental arena, Diamond takes a middle-of-the-road stance, in the sense of acknowledging the conflict between short-term corporate profits and environmental stewardship, while also providing examples of businesses that prospered beyond all expectations by taking the long-term view and aiming for sustainability.
Considering himself a cautious optimist, Diamond believes that societies can avoid collapse if they take their problems seriously and realize that they won't go away on their own. So, we can solve our problems if we decide to do so, and this is why the word 'Choose' appears in the book's title. We just need political will, a rare commodity these days, to apply a variety of remedies that are already available to us.
An 18-minute TED talk by Diamond based on key ideas in this book is available on-line. There is also "Collapse," a 96-minute documentary film released by National Geographic in 2010 and available via YouTube. To be fair, I should mention that Diamond's ideas have been challenged by ethnographers and anthropologists, including in a collection of articles, published as the 2010 Cambridge University Press book, Questioning Collapse.

2017/05/29 (Monday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Tree of hearts, in honor of the 2017 US Memorial Day observation (1) Politicians and generals start wars, soldiers fight them: Selfless service is possible, even when the war itself is misguided or unjust. Today we honor the ultimate sacrifice made by the US Armed Forces, so that our country and much of the world can live in peace. A few bad apples aside, they have fought with courage and honor, giving us the opportunity to contribute to our societies in much less perilous settings. We salute our heroes!
(2) Fake recommendation: The Art of the Deal is the only book a graduate will ever need. Loser Bill! [Bill Gates recommends to graduates Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature.]
(3) Quote of the day: "It became like a god." ~ Ke Jie, world's top player of Go, upon being defeated in his 5/23 match by a Google algorithm
(4) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Angela Merkel: Germany can't depend on Trump's America (Newsweek)
- White House omits Luxembourg's gay First Spouse in photo caption (Newsweek)
- US Defense Secretary Mattis warns of catastrophic North Korea war (Newsweek)
- Waltzing robot teaches beginners how to dance like a pro (ACM Tech News)
- Trump is looking to reverse Obama's Cuba policies (USA Today)
- Suspect in custody after killing spree leaves 8 dead in Mississippi (Huff Post)
Cover image for Dr. Mike Dow's 'Brain Fog Fix' (5) Book review: Dow, Dr. Mike, The Brain Fog Fix: Reclaim Your Focus, Memory and Joy in Just 3 Weeks, unabridged MP3 audiobook read by the author, Blackstone audio, 2015.
Dr. Dow, a psychologist, claims to have the cure for improving your energy, mood and mental clarity. His plan consists of simple changes you can make in your diet, activities, and thinking; nothing revolutionary. There have been so many self-help books of this kind that we have become weary of the claims, but Dr. Dow's book has the endorsement of quite a few medical professionals. The "brain fog" of the title refers to feelings of confusion, memory loss, fading of mental acuity, and lack of focus. Brain health requires the restoration of balance among three crucial chemicals: serotonin, dopamine, and cortisol.
As you listen to Dr. Dow, you will tell yourself that you already knew these facts: cut out the carbs, avoid junk food (including diet sodas), eat high-quality proteins, enjoy a glass of wine, exercise, be social, and, most importantly, reduce your screen time. However, the rigorous presentation in this book, supported by many research studies, makes you understand the reasons for the recommendations and see the connections between various components of a healthy lifestyle. I must admit that I tended to tune out when long lists of ingredients, such as those rich in omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids, were recited, but getting the main message is more important than remembering all the details, which are available on-line.
Some of the suggestions are rather difficult to follow, such as avoiding electronic gadgets after 7:00 PM and charging your phone outside your bedroom at night, in order to avoid the temptation of checking social media and e-mail. However, even making smaller, incremental changes in your diet and work/play habits is bound to be helpful. Perhaps, over time, you can follow more and more of the suggestions, as you start seeing the benefits. In other words, don't be intimidated by the 3-week plan; taking 3 months or even 3 years would still be okay.

2017/05/28 (Sunday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Poster designed for the 7th annual Parhami Family Reunion (1) The 7th Parhami Family Reunion: The annual reunion gets together descendents of Dr. Mikaeel Parhami, the family's founder, as he took on the last name "Parhami" (Persianized version of "Ebrahimi"), when the Iranian government under Reza Shah decided to issue identity documents nationwide. Until then, Iranians did not have uniformly-used family names or officially-recorded dates of birth. Renewal of family bonds, be it via large gatherings such as our Memorial-weekend reunions or smaller, more practical ones throughout the year, is quite important and a tradition that my family cherishes. Needless to say, like every aspect of our lives in the era of hate-mongering and political divisiveness, families face new challenges in remaining close and civil in discourse.
(2) What France's President Emmanuel Macron told Trump by his super-firm handshake: "Donald Trump, the Turkish president or the Russian president see things in terms of power relationships, which doesn't bother me ... I don't believe in diplomacy through public criticism but in my bilateral dialogues I don't let anything pass. That is how you get respect."
(3) The tweeter-in-chief is back in the US: And he wastes no time in attacking the "fake news media"! Someone should remind him that he can't simultaneously say that the leaks are manufactured and demand that the leakers be punished.
(4) How much longer will H. R. McMaster last as National Security Adviser? He is already on the way out, according to this Newsweek article.
(5) "One soul in two bodies," practically demonstrated on a guitar.
(6) Unknown older man offers a beautiful rendition of "You Raise Me Up" on the street.
(7) Final thought for the day: You know priorities are misplaced when Iranian authorities dispatch special enforcers to catch and punish those who break their fast in public during the month of Ramadan, but there is no corresponding patrol to find and feed the hungry. [Adapted from various Internet sources]

2017/05/26 (Friday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Behrooz Parhami, with his designed poster and family tree (1) Family events: This weekend is family time for me (at least more so than usual). Tomorrow, my mother, all 4 of her children along with two spouses, all 7 of her grandchildren with one spouse, and one great grandchild will get together in Ventura. On Sunday, we will attend the 7th annual Parhami Family Reunion in Mission Viejo with some 100 other family members. Behind me in the photo are a poster I designed for the family reunion and a family tree I drew in 2003, which needs updating.
(2) As usual, NPR comes to our rescue and answers the burning questions we have about the retro Middle-Ages look of the Trump women at Vatican. I hope they can still do this without government funds! Horrific example of the remnants of patriarchy from many centuries ago!
(3) Deep learning comes to the kitchen: French, American, and Japanese researchers have developed a new machine-learning algorithm that can take a given recipe and transform it into an alternative dietary style. The system initially analyzes a large number of recipes and uses them to train a neural network as to what recipe features represent the culinary style of a given region. The model can then be used in a wide variety of settings, including prediction of recipe origins, given lists of ingredients, and recipe transformation to take dietary restrictions into account. [Abridged from: ACM Tech News]
(4) My body (by Masih Alinejad): It's okay to feel sad, but never feel hopeless. Do not fear hateful comments, but be afraid of a lack of strength to endure them. We can't be defeated, except by our own weaknesses. If as a woman, you are offended by an onslaught of negative comments about your appearance, weight, or facial features, look no further for the reason than your dislike of yourself as you are. If you don't love yourself, you can't love others. [Rough, partial translation of original Instagram post in Persian. Go Masih!]
(5) Kurdish dancing, with colorful regional dresses. [2-minute video]
(6) Why smart people sometimes act stupid: Lack of common sense can make anyone, including the smartest people, make dumb mistakes. As Voltaire noted, "Common sense is not so common." The "absent-minded prof" cliche notwithstanding, the mistakes are due to several factors, the most important of which are listed below.
- Overconfidence (leads to not seeking help from others)
- Unreasonably high expectations (pushing people too hard)
- Misplaced pride (the need to always be right)
- Insufficient emotional intelligence (EQ), despite high IQ
- Lack of persistence (giving up after initial failure)
- Lack of grit (not valuing or engaging in hard work)
- Too much multi-tasking (a direct result of impatience)
- Not accepting feedback (undervaluing others' opinions)
Regarding multi-tasking, which our society views in a positive light as a sign of high intelligence and ability, I learned, from a book I am listening to and will review soon (The Brain Fog Fix, by Mike Dow), that new research indicates the superiority of sequential handling of multiple tasks over the parallel or multi-tasking approach. When we multi-task, we are essentially switching between the tasks at a very high rate, and that switching imposes some overhead that reduces our overall productivity.

2017/05/25 (Thursday): Here are three items of potential interest.
Professor Cicilia Heyes lecturing, and a key slide in her presentation (1) An exquisite lecture about cognition: Today, I attended a lecture entitled "Cognitive Gadgets: The Cultural Evolution of Thinking," by Cecilia Heyes, Professor of Psychology, University of Oxford.
Besides the talk's rich scientific content, the delivery was quite impressive. The speaker's perfect enunciation, which one member of the audience characterized as her very appealing "Oxford accent," along with the absence of even a single malformed sentence or an awkward pause throughout the one-hour unscripted talk, created a delightful listening and learning experience.
Professor Heyes' work on the evolution of human cognition explores the ways in which natural selection, learning, and developmental and cultural processes combine to produce the mature cognitive abilities found in adult humans. The following two links lead to her bio and a 47-minute keynote lecture on a different topic, "The Cultural Evolution of Mindreading."
Cultural learning in humans is quite similar to the development of better kayaks over time, that is, by good designs (that float well and move fast) being more likely to be copied by others. This copying of ideas and designs is the analog of copying of genes through reproduction in genetic evolution. Professor Heyes pursues the theory that both the computationalism of evolutionary psychology (which, by the way, is a field created at UCSB) and the selection mechanisms of cultural evolutionary theory play roles in the development of human cognitive abilities, something that can be called "cultural evolutionary psychology."
A key observation of Professor Heyes is that human and chimp attributes differ only in degrees and not in substance. Small improvements in three key attributes create major differences in abilities. These are:
a. Temperament: Humans are much more tolerant of having others around, are less aggressive, and enjoy response-contingent stimulation (we like it when what we do affects something in the world around us).
b. Attention: Beginning with infancy, we like looking at faces and tend to track people's gazes.
c. Cognition: Our memory capacity is larger, we can resist temptation, and are better at associative learning.
The three attributes just listed can be viewed as a "genetic starter kit" that is augmented by "gadget construction" to give us our unique human abilities. The slide displayed in the photo shows some of the cognitive mechanisms that are often viewed as uniquely human. In the rest of the talk, Professor Heyes focused on one of these: the imitation gadget.
Our ability to imitate is fundamental in making and using tools, but it is even more important in social behavior, such as posture and ritualistic dance movements. Recent studies indicate that a human newborn's ability to imitate is extremely limited, thus suggesting that imitation is primarily a learned attribute. In order to imitate someone, our minds develop "matching vertical associations," constructs that link an observed behavior, such as a hand moving in a certain way, to motor responses needed to mimic that behavior. We tend to think of imitation as the correspondence between two images, whereas when we imitate someone, our view of our own motions is quite different from what we see in the other person.
During the Q&A period, it became clear that studies of human behavior are based mostly on how normal individuals act or react. People with disabilities of various kinds or those with abnormally better abilities tend to create problems in such studies.
(2) Harvard drop-out finally gets his degree: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg makes his mom proud at this year's Harvard commencement.
(3) Talk about rude: Trump shoves his way to the front for photo opportunity. What's mind-boggling is that he knows dozens of cameras are photographing and recording the event, and he still doesn't care!

2017/05/24 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon about historical figures updating their Facebook statuses (1) Historical status updates: By John Atkinson.
(2) A 140-year-old Moreton Bay fig tree: Planted in 1876, this majestic tree is located in downtown Santa Barbara, at the entrance of the Amtrak/Greyhound station. I took these photos of the tree, and the plaque describing its history, last Sunday, while I strolled in the area, awaiting the arrival of my mom from the SF Bay Area. An Amtrak train and a historic train car are visible in one of the photos.
(3) "Star Wars" turns 40: The cinematic and cultural phenom that began in 1977 with the first of the three original installments (later renamed "Episode IV—A New Hope," when three prequels were released) is going strong at 40. The musical score by John Williams still amazes after four decades. I am listening to Carrie Fisher's memoir, The Princess Diarist, which I will review when done. The clever title attracted me to this audiobook, and I was not disappointed. [Image]
(4) Donald Trump news: He told the Israelis in Jerusalem that he arrived there from the Middle East. His meeting with the Pope was less than pleasant, as seen in this Vatican photo and this juxtaposition of the Pope's meeting with 44 and 45. Meanwhile, it's becoming more and more difficult to keep track of Trump's flips and flops: The villainous Saudi Royal family is now apparently hunky-dory.
(5) Al Franken: The comedian, who tried to avoid humor in order to be taken seriously as a senator, has returned to his SNL roots in a memoir to be published on May 30.
(6) Modern Persian music: A beautiful song performed by Parva (based on a poem by Hossein Pezhman Bakhtiari), accompanied by wonderful imagery.
(7) around campus on this breezy but otherwise wonderful afternoon, before my 3:30 class.
(8) Science takes a back seat to war machinery in Trump's proposed budget for 2018.
(9) Searching for a soulmate is misguided: This Time magazine article (issue of May 29, 2017) suggests that the ideal partner is the one you create. Here "create" doesn't mean through changing a less-than-ideal mate. Instead, it means focusing on the person's positive attributes and what the two of you can share, rather than dwelling on the attributes that person is missing from your desirable list. There may be a soulmate for you somewhere, but the 10,000 or so people you meet over a lifetime constitute a tiny fraction of all potential mates and will likely not include the handful of people who could be considered your soulmates. Author J. R. R. Tolkien had a lot to say about this subject: "[The romantic chivalric tradition takes] the young man's eye off women as they are—Companions in shipwreck not guiding stars. ... The 'real soul-mate' is the one you are actually married to." I guess the same can be said of women.

2017/05/23 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
WannaCry ransomeware world map (1) Why the WannaCry attack fizzled: The ransomeware was both a smashing success (in terms of its impact) and an abject failure (in terms of what the perpetrators earned). The attackers were simply not prepared for the amount of work needed to collect the loot and thus quietly undid themselves. [Source: Time magazine, issue of May 29, 2017]
(2) Less than a year ago (on June 13, 2016), Donald Trump tweeted: "Saudi Arabia and many of the countries that gave vast amounts of money to the Clinton Foundation want women as slaves and to kill gays. Hillary must return all money from such countries."
(3) Ready ... Set ... Go! Google DeepMind's AI Go-playing program, AlphaGo, will soon compete against the 19-year-old Chinese world champ, Ke Jie, in a 3-game match. Having been previously defeated by an anonymous on-line player, which turned out to be AlphaGo, Jie and others hope to win in future face-offs, because they have been training specifically to play against the machine.
[P.S.: Since this article appeared a couple of days ago, AlphaGo has played and defeated Ke Jie. Next opponent!]
(4) Eight brief news headlines of the day:
- Deaths in London's Manchester Arena terror attack rises to 22 (multiple sources)
- Terrorist in ISIS London attack identified as Salman Abedi (Yahoo News)
- Former Trump adviser Woolsey blasts Obama on London attack (Huff Post)
- Roger Moore, long-time actor and James Bond portrayer, dead at 89 (NYT)
- Trump refuses to disclose number of lobby waivers he has granted (AP)
- Gorsuch and Thomas dissent on upholding soft-money limits (Huff Post)
- First human ancestor may have come from Europe, not Africa (Newsweek)
- Median household income is now highest since 2002 (Yahoo Finance)
(5) UCSB is migrating to Google G-Suite for Education: Parts of the campus already use the Google e-mail and collaboration service, branded as "Connect." College of engineering will migrate to the new service in waves over the summer. My e-mail address will not change as a result of the migration, but integrated e-mail, calendaring, collaboration, and video-conferencing tools will become available to me.
(6) US and Israeli officials met in a room covered with two Persian rugs from Naein (a town near Isfahan).
(7) Anyone who stands up to Trump is fired: So, will he fire Melania for refusing his hand? [Video]
(8) Sand Pizza slice, photographed on Sunday, May 21, 2017, next to Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf. [Photo]
(9) The Isla Vista tragedy remembered three years later: The mass shooting of May 23, 2014, by a misogynist who killed 6 and injured 14, is being memorialized this week on the UCSB campus. Last night, I attended a program entitled "Responses to the 5/23/2014 IV Tragedy" at UCSB's Multicultural Center Theater. Six panelists outlined the campus and community efforts in the aftermath of the tragedy to comfort students and to honor the victims, including an award-winning exhibit and archive of items collected from the make-shift memorial sites in Isla Vista and from the victims' families. I am partially visible in one of the photos, taken by Vicky Nguyen of KEYT News. The remaining photos are mine. This UCSB Library page contains a virtual tour of the exhibit.

2017/05/22 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cover image for Margaret Atwood's 'The Heart Goes Last' (1) Book review: Atwood, Margaret, The Heart Goes Last: A Novel, unabridged audiobook read by Cassandra Campbell and Mark Deakins, Random House Audio, 2015.
[My 3-star review of the book on GoodReads]
This is one of the few novels that I have read/heard in recent years. I found the story's premise quite interesting: a down-on-their-luck husband and wife, who have lost their home and are living meagerly in their car on the wife's tips, decide to participate in a social experiment, which provides them with jobs and a house. There is a twist, however: the couple would have to switch back and forth between living in their comfortable house and being confined to a prison, with another couple, their alternates, occupying the house when they are gone.
The couple is manipulated as part of the experiment. Each spouse, unknown to the other, becomes obsessed with his/her mate's alternate, enjoying the extramarital affair and feeling very guilty about it at the same time. However, nothing is as it appears and the couple seems not to understand what is going on, despite valiant efforts. They are put through a harsh, very cruel test, which separates them in a surprising way, thus providing the author with ample opportunities to explore personal challenges resulting from forced conformity, loyalty, guilt, sexual desires, and trust.
The female and male readers alternate, as the focus of the story shifts from one partner to the other. I listened to this audiobook on my iPhone, using the OverDrive app that allows me to borrow audiobooks and e-books from my local library. As I mentioned in a previous review, much about the app's user interface needs improvement, but I liked the fact that I could listen to the audiobook during my walks between home and work, when I shaved, or any other available time slot.
(2) UCLA to honor the late Iranian filmmaker: Entitled "Abbas Kiarostami: The Man and His Arts," the Sunday, June 11, 2017, bilingual program (314 Royce Hall, 3:00-6:00 PM) will consist of presentations in English (by Shiva Balaghi, Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, Hamid Naficy), screening of his 2016 film "Take Me Home," with remarks by Ahmad Kiarostami, and a round-table discussion in Persian, moderated by Nayereh Tohidi.
(3) Trump's awkward participation in a war dance: Or was it an oil dance? Later, he called it beautiful. This war dance was performed after the signing of the $110 billion US-Saudi arms deal. Just imagine the reaction to Obama participating in a war dance with the Saudis!
(4) Typos vs. thinkos: Using "I misspoke" as an excuse is acceptable only when the speaker knows a fact but accidentally says something different (like a typo in a text). These days, however, "I misspoke" is abused to cover up mistakes and lies arising from ignorance, bias, or partisanship. This article cites some good examples.
(5) Hassan Rouhani's campaign speech in Mashhad: In a bold and direct criticism of the religious leader in charge of the shrine of Imam Reza and its associated business empire, Rouhani said: "You told the people of Mashhad that they should leave the city if they want music concerts. Now you want to take over the country. Will you then tell the people of Iran to leave the country if they have the same demands?"
(6) Complete 79-minute video of the May 2017 meeting between Trump and Saudi leaders in Riyadh.
(7) Six ways in which Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia was bizarre, unethical, and un-American: He seems to be establishing connections for his post-presidency business deals. Soon, all Hajj pilgrims may be staying at Trump properties in Riyadh!
(8) Analysis of Trump speech patterns over decades reveals possible cognitive decline: Here is a recent example of his utterances: "... there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself—and the Russians, zero." And this from a man who was considered articulate years ago.
(9) Final thought for the day: Azeri music, by a talented and good-looking couple. [1-minute video]

2017/05/21 (Sunday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Cover image of Oliver Sacks's 'Gratitude' (1) Book review: Sacks, Oliver, Gratitude, MP3 audiobook, read by Dan Woren, Random House Audio, 2015. [My 5-star review on GoodReads]
This short, brilliant book by the well-known and prolific neurologist, who died of terminal cancer at 82, consists of four essays written in the last two years of his life. It is very typical of Sacks to want to give gratitude upon learning that he is about to die.
The first essay, "Mercury," is about Sacks's looming 80th birthday and is filled with musings on the negative effects of aging. Sacks had an obsession with the periodic table of elements and, since childhood, identified his birthdays with the element having the same atomic number; he was sodium at 11, gold at 79, and mercury at 80. He rightly suspected that he would not live to see his 84th birthday (the murderously radioactive polonium).
Sacks wrote the second essay, "My Own Life," when he believed he had a couple of months to live, but later wasn't sure whether he should disclose his fatal disease and thus delayed its publication. Staring at the wall ahead that represented the end of his life, Sacks gained a sudden clear focus and perspective that pushed him to consider only the essentials: himself, his work, and his friends; no watching "The News Hour," no worrying about politics or global warming.
In the third essay, "My Periodic Table," Sacks elaborates on his fascination with physical sciences, "a world where there is no life, but also no death," a refuge in times of stress. In this essay, Sacks continues his musings of the "Mercury" essay. After repeating the observation that he will not see his polonium birthday, he continues thus: "But then, at the other end of my table—my periodic table—I have a beautifully machined piece of beryllium (element 4) to remind me of my childhood, and of how long ago my soon-to-end life began."
In the fourth essay, "Sabbath," Sacks recalls his upbringing in an orthodox Jewish family and the aftermath of admitting to his father that he had sexual feelings for other boys. His mother's shrieking and condemnation made him averse to religion for the rest of his life and strained his family ties. This last essay of Sacks was published in the New York Times on August 14, 2015, a mere two weeks before his death on August 30.
(2) Design seen on a T-shirt: Schrodinger's cat is ... [Image]
(3) Music is joy: For the players, for the listeners, and, in this case, for the little ballerina. [4-minute video]
(4) Question of the day: Should a person who has recently traveled to a radical Muslim country, which awarded him a medal, be allowed to enter the United States?
(5) Here is a principled response to an invitation from Saudi Arabia.
(6) On the rift generated by Iran's just-completed elections: Facebook and other social media are abuzz with news of the just-completed Iranian elections, in which President Rouhani won a second term, much to the delight of young Iranians, who danced on the streets or in victory rallies. Elections in Iran are anything but open and fair. Only half-dozen of the hundreds of candidates who wanted to enter the race were 'approved' and were on the ballot; women are not allowed to run; the domineering government-run media had clear favorites among the candidates; there was speculation that the regime is playing a game of 'good cop, bad cop' by presenting Rouhani as a moderate against more conservative candidates. Yet, to the extent that people were allowed to influence the outcome from among the hand-picked candidates, they participated enthusiastically and wholeheartedly, with a 70% turnout, giving Rouhani a 57% to 38% edge over Ebrahim Raisi, his closest rival.
And now to the main point of my post. A large number of Iranians, both inside Iran and abroad, worked toward boycotting the elections on the grounds that the Islamic regime is illegitimate and must not be aided in its survival in any shape or form. The other side argued that despite lack of diversity in the slate of candidates, there are real differences between them and lack of participation may mean the election of the least desirable candidate, whose supporters are lured into participation. Unfortunately, the boycotters were quite uncivil in their encounters, accusing those who voted of being idiotic, naive, unpatriotic, sold-out, and showered them with a host of other insults. As a non-voter, who has friends in both groups, I think that the voting group remained more civil in their exchanges and more convincing in the arguments they presented. Regardless, the decision to vote or boycott is a personal one and must be respected, no matter what our own views. [Persian summary]

2017/05/20 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Four interesting designs (1) Miscellaneous designs and ideas, in four images.
(2) The Mechanical Universe: This is the title of a 1980s TV series, which was essentially a college-level introductory physics class produced by Caltech and taught by physicist David Goodstein. It features cool demos, animations, and reenactments.
(3) Live in the moment: We are given this advice ceaselessly; stop worrying about the future, be present. The problem is that scientists are increasingly pointing to foresight as the distinguishing feature of us human beings. [NY Times story]
(4) Coexistence of multiple human evolutionary lines: The theory that modern humans (homo sapiens) emerged from one ancestral line has encountered one more challenge by the discovery that homo naledi, a protohuman species with modern skeletal features but with brains the size of a gorilla's, coexisted with homo sapiens and neanderthals. [Source: Time magazine, issue of May 22, 2017]
(5) Previously infertile mice able to reproduce with 3D-printed ovaries: In what appears to be a revolutionary advance in biological 3D printing, scientists created synthetic ovaries by printing porous scaffolds from a gelatin ink and filling them with follicles, the tiny, fluid-holding sacs that contain immature egg cells. The implants hooked up to the blood supply within a week and went on to release eggs naturally through the pores built into the gelatin structures.
Math puzzle involving a square divided into four triangular parts (6) An interesting math puzzle: If the outside shape is a square and numbers denote the areas of three of the triangles, what is the area of the fourth triangle?
(7) Iran's presidential election: President Rouhani has been re-elected after the first round, earning 57% of the vote. This isn't just good news for the current cycle but will likely spoil Raisi's chances of being chosen the next Supreme Leader (as promoted by some hardliners), given his lack of popular support.
(8) Final thought for the day: Remember the good old days, when the nation's gravest concern was the Vice President misspelling "potato"?
(9) Candidate Trump: "Saudi Arabia was behind 9/11." President Trump: "Saudi Arabia is an important ally." And why the change of heart? Aljazeera: "US and Saudi Arabia sign arms deals worth almost $110 billion"

2017/05/19 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cover image of the new book 'The Evolution of Beauty' (1) Beauty alongside fitness drives evolution: "Survival of the fittest," as Darwin's theory of evolution is sometimes called, must be augmented by "survival of the prettiest," according to a new book entitled The Evolution of Beauty, by ornithologist Richard O. Prum. The male club-winged manakin, for example, has ornate feathers that produce music as it flies, a feature that has evolved to attract females. The feature not only does not make the bird fitter, but actually slows it down.
(2) Tehran's road to the sea: Iran changes its path to the Mediterranean to avoid areas where US forces are fighting ISIS.
(3) Young woman emulates the voices of 15 different singers in 12 minutes.
(4) Trump has been reading fake news about exercise: He apparently believes that, like a battery, each person comes with a finite amount of lifetime energy and that wasting that energy on exercise will shorten the person's life.
(5) New TV series for 2017: Some observers believe (hope?) that "Three Men and a ManBaby" will be cancelled after one season. [Image]
(6) Massive cuts to DoE's research budget expected: Amounting to more than 2/3 of its existing $2.1 billion budget, the proposed cuts will essentially wipe out research programs on renewable energy and 'clean coal.'
(7) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the past couple of days:
- Former FBI Director Mueller appointed to lead the Russia probe (WP)
- Roger Ailes, Fox News architect and former head, dead at 77 (NYT)
- Erdogan's security detail attacks, beats peaceful DC protesters (NYT)
- Two Chinese military jets intercept US aircraft (AFP)
- Trump leaves on his first foreign trip amid problems at home (CNN)
- Drunk driver mows down dozens in NYC's Times Square (NYT)
(8) Debunked: The theory that we need businessmen to run the government efficiently. [Image]
(9) Microsoft to offer cloud-computing services from data centers in Africa: Seeking an edge over rivals in targeting local customers, the software giant will open two data centers in Johannesburg and Cape Town as part of an expansion that stretches across 40 regions globally. Previously, companies in Africa relied on Microsoft's European data-center hubs such as those in Ireland and the Netherlands. [Source: Bloomberg News]

2017/05/18 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
The White House partly remodeled to look like the Kremlin (1) Cover of Time magazine, issue of May 29, 2017.
(2) Life may have originated on Mars: A NASA Curiosity engineer has advanced the theory that life got its foothold on Mars and took its journey to Earth aboard a meteor. The theory, triggered by the fact that Mars may have become habitable before Earth, is tantalizing, because it would make us all Martians, but it is not yet supported by firm evidence.
(3) Cartoon of the day: Scarier than Hitchcock's "The Birds"! [Image]
(4) Maz Jobrani's commencement speech at UC Berkeley.
(5) Death by caffeine: A teenager has died after consuming coffee, followed by caffeine-laden energy drinks, according to ABC News.
(6) Defying mandatory hijab: This brave woman challenges Iran's hijab laws by putting herself in danger, not just of being arrested by the morality police, but also of being ridiculed or, worse, attacked by sick men who have no respect for personal freedoms.
(7) And now, something less serious, amid dire Trumpian news: Do women like men with or without beards? Short answer: Don't bother shaving!
(8) If you have no health insurance, stay away from rattlesnakes: Or else, be prepared to receive a bill like this shocking one from 2015 (of course, adjusted for higher costs in 2017).
(9) Is ISIS an Existential Threat to the United States? This was the title of a debate at UCSB's Campbell Hall, presented within the framework of UCSB Arts & Lectures Program, beginning at 7:30 PM. UCSB's sociology and global studies professor Mark Jurgensmeyer, who has authored several books, including Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, moderated the debate.
Monica Duffy Toft (Professor of International Politics and Director of the Center for Strategic Studies at Tuft University) argued the "no" answer, despite admitting that 83% of Americans view ISIS as a serious threat to our country. Even though it is not currently an existential threat to the US, ISIS can become an existential threat, depending on how we respond to its ideas. Its power comes in part from the knowledge that we Westerners are risk-averse and prone to over-reaction. Even though ISIS has vast support among the alienated Sunnis in both Iraq and Syria, its central organization is on the ropes as a result of territory losses. Furthermore, history tells us that terrorist organizations generally do not last long. The ideology will be hard to eliminate, so focusing on physical elimination of ISIS's leadership and organization appears to be the only viable option.
Marc Gopin (Professor of Religion, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution and Director of the Center on Religion, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University) presented arguments for the "yes" side. He views ISIS not as a religious group, but as a secular, land-grab entity that uses religion as a tool and has been able to fill its coffers by selling oil to Turkey. Historically, many wars have been fought where foot soldiers fight for religion, whereas commanders and leaders are secular, with political ambitions. There is support for extremist groups such as ISIS among wealthy Saudis, including some high-level members of the royal family. ISIS may not be a military threat to the US homeland, but it is an existential threat in the way it has upset the international balance (including deep threats to the Islamic world) and how it has distracted us from addressing more serious problems. Within 50-100 years, many of our coastal cities will be submerged and we still have way too many deaths from smoking. Players such as Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are supporting multiple proxy wars in the Middle East region. Gopin views bringing Iran and Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table as the only way of stopping the proxy wars, which strengthen and nurture ISIS. We must note that the Shi'a-Sunni conflict is nothing new. Various Christian sects fought in Europe for ages, before they came to their senses and decided to abandon religion as a tool for governance and political power.
I was one of the questioners at the end of the discussion. I asked what gave Professor Gopin hope that the Shi'a-Sunni conflict will be brought to an end, noting that conflict between the two sects goes back centuries and even though for several decades Iran and Saudi Arabia kept their hatred for each other in check and followed international norms (they had political relations and embassies), it has been nearly 40 years since the relationship has deteriorated. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia aspire to be considered as leading the Islamic world and are unlikely to compromise on what each side views as an existential threat from the other side. The short answer was that just as the conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland was brought to an end by exerting international pressure and using the carrot-and-stick approach, Iranians and Saudis can be persuaded to negotiate.

2017/05/17 (Wednesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Photo of Naomi Klein (1) Naomi Klein's lecture at Granada Theater: Journalist and activist Naomi Klein spoke about "Our Environmental Future: Connection, Collaboration, and Creation," within the framework of UCSB Arts & Lectures Program. The talk served as the keynote address in the Women and the Environment Conference, being held in Santa Barbara. As part of the speaker's introduction, it was noted that "well-behaved women seldom make history."
Klein is the author of the acclaimed, best-selling book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, now also a documentary film. An earlier best-selling book of hers (on my to-read list) is titled The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Her just-finished book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, will be released on June 17.
Klein observed that we have been desensitized to shocking events. What would have caused severe reactions and radical change (e.g., the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969) barely causes a ripple now (e.g., Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010). The fossil fuel industry has enormous leverage, to the extent that it influences energy policies and even drives the country toward war, because wars tend to increase the price of oil, which in turn raises profits and makes additional exploration and drilling cost-effective.
She observed that the current resistance movement is unprecedented and it spans many issues, from women's rights and science to the environment and equality. She suggested that all these problems must be addressed in parallel, in order to build a broad enough coalition against misguided policies. We can't afford to say that we will deal with environmental problems first, say, and then tackle poverty and war-mongering. All of these problems are inter-related.
And we can't address all such problems by pursuing existing strategies. We need to look deeper and question prevailing assumptions. For example, one reason for the growing anti-science bias is that scientists are discovering truths that go against the primacy of individualism and competition.
Klein referred to the Canadian "The Leap Manifesto" (so named, because it was conceived in 2016, a leap year; see its Web site) as a good example of coordinated action to care for the Earth and one another. Part of the manifesto is the pursuit of "energy democracy" and "energy justice," in order to allow energy to be produced and dispensed in a distributed manner, rather than being under the control of a few big corporations.
Klein stressed the importance of collective action, as opposed to individual activism. She suggested that everyone get away from the computer screen, and the illusion of contributing to solutions via posting/tweeting, and join action groups and other collectives, where they can advance their causes via human-to-human contacts.
(2) Will Ferrell returns as George W. Bush to mock Trump.
(3) NASA's space fabric: The meteorite-resistant fabric can be 3D-printed, even in space, to satisfy various needs. The fabric has a light-reflecting side and a light-absorbing side, making it suitable for use in regulating thermal energy.
(4) Artist projects a message on Trump's DC hotel: The message reads "Pay Trump Bribes Here."
(5) There was a big shake in the Santa Barbara area at 9:42 PM last night. It was very short in duration, but quite strong. KEYT reports that it was a 4.1-magnitude earthquake, followed one minute later by a 3.1-magnitude shaker, both about 8 miles from Isla Vista (a community near the city of Goleta). Three more smaller aftershocks came a few minutes later. There are no reports of damage or any tsunami warnings at this time.
(6) Brisk walking on campus: The "UC Walks" program sponsors campus walking events, preceded by stretch and cardio warm-up exercises, during lunch hour. Today, we went around the campus lagoon and earned a free T-shirt! After the walk, and before returning to my office, I caught the tail end of a musical performance at UCSB's Music Bowl, as part of the World Music Series.

2017/05/16 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cover of 'Der Spiegel,' bearing a cartoon of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un on a bomb (1) Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un continue their playground taunting exchanges: In the latest episode, which so far has not drawn a direct response, Un has asserted that his missiles can reach the Continental US.
(2) A beautiful Kurdish song: Vocals only. Enjoy!
(3) Cartoon of the day: Lady Gaga generously donates her old clothes to the homeless. [Image]
(4) Belva Ann Lockwood: First woman to run for US presidency (in 1884).
(5) Trump's mob connections: An explosive Dutch documentary film alleges that Trump has deep ties to Russia's mafia underworld and other shady figures.
(6) Largest distributed file system ever built: The Andrew File System, winner of the 2016 ACM Software System Award, has emerged as foundational technology for cloud-computing techniques. The most notable contributions of AFS are its cloud-storage model and on-demand caching at the edge. [Source: ACM Tech News, May 15, 2017]
(7) An algorithm that summarizes lengthy texts: Researchers at Salesforce have developed a learning algorithm to accurately and coherently condense lengthy textual documents by blending various machine-learning strategies and by being fed summary examples. While lauding the Salesforce algorithm, experts point out the limits of solely relying on statistical machine learning, as producing good summaries seems to require some syntactic and semantic knowledge, in order for the results to be truly fluid and fluent. [Source: ACM Tech News, May 15, 2017]
(8) The Pacific Crest Trail: This first map shows the California portion of the Mexico-to-Canada trail that spans California (~1700 miles), Oregon (~500 miles), and Washington (~500 miles). This second map shows the Oregon-Washington portion of the 2700-mile trail.
(9) We give ourselves too much credit when we succeed: Researchers at UC Berkeley asked randomly selected subjects to play a rigged game of Monopoly, in which some players got extra starting cash and higher bonuses for passing "Go." Not surprisingly, the advantaged players won. As these players prospered, however, their behavior changed, becoming more obnoxious and boasting about how their strategy helped them succeed. Even though they were aware of their head start and extra boosts, they began to think that they earned their success by virtue of being smarter than the other players.

2017/05/15 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Amazing sculpture in Portland, Oregon (1) I hope to be able to see this wonderful piece of art, when I visit Portland, OR, for a mid-September technical conference.
(2) Quote of the day: "What does Trump see when he looks back in history? Mostly he sees ... Trump." ~ Presidential historian John Meacham's "Viewpoint" column in Time magazine, issue of May 15, 2017
(3) Birds' eye views of some major cities. [Photos]
(4) Cartoon of the day: One way flights to Mars are in high demand! [Image]
(5) Gift from Iran: I received this elegantly-bound and lushly-illustrated coffee-table book as a gift from a colleague in Iran, kindly brought to me by another colleague who recently visited there. [Cover image]
(6) Ransomware: By now you have likely heard about the WannaCry ransomware that is making its way around the internet encrypting people's Windows computers and demanding payment to restore files. The infection rate has slowed but there may well be an uptick as the attack software evolves. Vulnerable computers are running the Windows OS with missing patches. The patch addressing the issue has been available since March but if you haven't updated your computer for some reason, do it as soon as possible. This is also a good time to review security practices, outlined in this page.
(7) Gender-neutral award: MTV has taken an important step by presenting a single acting award to Emma Watson for her role as Belle in "Beauty and the Beast." As noted by Watson in her acceptance speech, "Acting is about putting yourself in someone else's shoes. And that doesn't need to be separated into two categories."
(8) Syrian pop singer: Omar Souleyman was performing in a free concert this evening at UCSB's Storke Plaza, accompanied by UCSB Middle East Ensemble (a diverse group of musicians from our area). I could not attend, so I am posting a song of his, "Bahdeni Nami" [8-minute video] as a substitute. He has many more songs on YouTube, including "Salamat Galbi Bidek" [6-minute video], performed at the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize Concert.
(9) Final thought for the day: "[W]e all need to remind ourselves of our advantages: whether it's straight priviledge, or financial privileges, or able-bodied privilege, or whatever extra boost we've gotten." ~ Susanna Shrobsdorff, writing in Time magazine, issue of May 15, 2017

2017/05/14 (Sunday): Here are six items of potential interest.
A one-toman or 10-rial bill from Reza Shah's period and a coin in the same denomination from the early days of the Islamic Republic (1) On "toman" or "toomaan," Iran's currency unit: Iran's currency was originally built on the unit of "dinar," a variant of "denarius" used by Eastern Romans, whose territories were captured by Muslims. Some Arab countires still use dinar as their currency unit. Soltan Mahmoud Ghaznavi minted a 100-dinar or "san'nar" coin, which came to be known as "mahmoudi."
The Samanis minted a 50-dinar coin, which was dubbed "shahi." Units such as "gheran" (1000 dinars) and "toman" (10,000 dinars) were used in financial calculations, but there were no actual coins in these denominations at the time. The word "toman" has Mongol roots, and it means 10,000. King Abbas Safavi minted a 200-dinar coin, which came to be known as "abbasi." Close ties between Iran and Portugal brought the Portuguese "re'al" coin to Iran, which at the time was worth 1175 dinars.
During the Qajar dynasty, the coins in circulation included shahi, san'nar, abbasi, and dah-shahi (500 dinars). Early in the Pahlavi dynasty, it was decided to reduce the worth of a "rial" (the Portuguese re'al) to 1000 dinars in order to make the currency units uniform and consistent. Eventually, toman (10 rials) prevailed as the monetary unit used by the public, although rial remained the official unit of Iranian currency.
(2) A very happy Mothers' Day to all! I celebrated today with two of my sisters to recognize their contributions as mothers. My own mother and my youngest sister are away, so we will honor them remotely. As important as motherhood is, today's women are multi-dimensional, serving their societies in many different ways. All three of my sisters are shining examples of professional women, who are indispensable in their work functions as well.
(3) The whole world is either laughing at us or running scared: Cover image of the May 2017 issue of E&T magazine, a British technology publication.
(4) Last night's Billy Joel concert at Dodger Stadium: I had been waiting to see Billy Joel in concert for several years now, but his tour schedule did not include anything in my area, until, finally, he chose Dodger Stadium for a West-Coast concert! We arrived early at the venue, which looked quite empty. However, but the time he went on stage 45 minutes after the scheduled 8:00 PM start time, the seats had almost filled with an estimated 45,000 fans. The high-energy concert included Billy Joel standards, some with new arrangements or mixed with music by other composers. Joel commanded the stage and interjected personal anecdotes that added color to an already well-designed concert. As a kid, he was a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers (later, he became a Yankees fan and then a Mets fan), so he was awed by the prospects of performing at the venue of the now LA-resident team. As a young artist, he performed at very small venues, so he marveled at how far he has come. He had two surprise guests. Pink sang a song with Joel and another song of her own. Axl Rose collaborated on a song in the main set and another one in the encore set. Here are video clips from the concert, with the last one showing people waving their lit cell phones from the stands. ["My Life"] ["The Longest Time"] ["The Piano Man"]
(5) Cartoon of the day: "People need to stop obsessing sover my Russian ties." [Image]
(6) Tehran Book Fair, without censorship: In parallel with the Tehran event, where only books that gain the approval of the Islamic regime are on display, events in cities around the world allow Iranian authors and publishers to mingle with readers, while displaying books that either would not see the light of day in their home country, or else would appear with so many mandated changes as to become entirely different books. Government censorship in Iran has recently been augmented with publisher censorship (to avoid confrontation with the authorities and financial losses resulting from post-press confiscations) and author self-censorship (avoiding taboo or controversial topics to be able to publish at all). [Voice of America Persian report]

Cover image of 'Never Broken,' Jewel's memoir 2017/05/13 (Saturday): Book review: Jewel, Never Broken: Songs are Only Half the Story, Blackstone Audio, 2015.
This is the first audiobook I borrowed through OverDrive, the mobile app that links to my local library and allows me to check out books virtually. I recommend the app, which links to many local libraries. The user interface, however, needs improvement, as it is quite confusing and requires many functionally redundant steps. Perhaps it will improve in time. I was given 20 days to listen to the audiobook, and I did so on my cell phone, usually while walking to or from work.
I can put holds on books that are not available to check out and I am notified when the book becomes available (libraries can loan out only the number of copies for which they have purchased licenses, similar to buying a certain number of hard copies).
The following sentiment from the book (not an exact quote) explains the title: You can't break someone's spirit any more than you can break water. If our spirit seems broken, it's because we consider it broken, not because it actually is. This is the sense in which Jewel considers herself not broken.
To say that singer/songwriter Jewel Kilcher, a native of Alaska, had a difficult childhood would be an understatement. Her father was a musician with an explosive temper, who had a large repertoire of classic pop tunes he covered in style. He also wrote original songs on occasion. Her mother sang with the band. When Jewel's parents divorced, her mom moved out and the kids were left with her father, who did his best to raise them, his emotional volatility (a result of his own very difficult childhood, which led him to routinely hit the kids) notwithstanding.
At 8, Jewel found herself filling in for her absent mother, singing with the band. She sang tunes from Elvis, The Beatles, and other artists, never having heard them perform the original versions. Her point of reference was her father's version of the tunes. She identified with the songs and found them interesting, without being concerned with the artists who wrote or performed them. Jewel never had a normal childhood. She began working and writing songs at a young age and by 21, she was a well-known singer with her first album going multi-platinum.
The hardships she endured to attend a prestigious art-academy high school put her through some tough tests, but also increased her resolve to develop her talent and improve her skills. She was homeless for much of her youth, improvising to get by, even as she began to perform on stage. She loved her parents, but was not very close to her mother, who abandoned her as a child, but later returned to her life as a manager. Jewel used songwriting, poetry, and prose as refuges that would help her survive.
Jewel drew inspiration for her songs from famous writers more than from songwriters. This might explain the poetic and inspirational tone of her book. It has the potential of helping many people who suffer from self-doubt, and is a good read/listen for all others as well. Several reviewers, who previously saw Jewel as a light-weight, admit to having been won over by this book.
[My 5-star review on GoodReads]

2017/05/12 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Wedding photo, taken at Mt. Everest's base camp (1) Epic wedding photos taken at Mt. Everest's base camp: Ashley Schmeider and James Sisson spent a whole year planning and training for the expedition and took almost 3 weeks to get to the base camp, where they said their vows.
(2) Radio Israel's Persian service has been discontinued after 60 years of broadcasting.
(3) Trump's proposed budget, in one chart: Cuts, and, in 3 cases, increases, in billions of dollars and in percentage.
(4) Part of Barney Brantingham's humorous column in Santa Barbara Independent, May 11-18, 2017.
(5) Comey was kicked out, a la United, as he was about to fly from Los Angeles back to DC. (New Yorker cover)
(6) Our story, in 6 minutes: Science tells our story, from the formation of the universe 14 billion years ago to 5 billion years into the future.
(7) Multiple BMWs burst into flames spontaneously: The cars had been stationary, with their engines turned off, for hours or even days. One car burned in a garage, destroying much of the house. BMW denies responsibility, but otherwise has not commented.
(8) Forthcoming Iran-related events at UCLA:
- May 19: Dr. Azadeh Tabazadeh talks about her memoir, The Sky Detective (Humanities 365, 12:00-2:00 PM)
- June 2: Nobel Laureate Dr. Shirin Ebadi in conversation with Prof. Asli Bali (Luskin Conf. Center, 6:00 PM)
- June 11: Symposium in honor of Abbas Kiarostami: The Man and His Art (Royce Hall 314, 3:00-6:00 PM)
(9) Final thought for the day: Even Fox News has concluded that Trump is unfit to lead the country! In another story, a Breitbart News reporter got into a verbal altercation with Sean Spicer, when he refused to provide a straight answer to a question about Trump's wall.

2017/05/11 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Composite image of Donald Trump and Richard Nixon Cartoon of Donald Trump saying 'I'm not a crook, either' (1) Richard Trump or Donald Nixon? Quite a few Trump-Nixon comparisons have appeared since Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Here are two examples, a cartoon and a composite image.
(2) Arrest for child pornography: The Iranian-American co-owner of an Italian Restaurant in Sherman Oaks (northwestern LA) is accused of installing cameras in the restaurant's women's restroom and possession of child pornography.
(3) Trump watch: One day after he fired Comey, Trump attacks his critics in an unhinged tweet-storm. Like a guilty middle-schooler (no offense intended to teenagers), Trump uses the letter sent to Comey to tell the FBI Director he's fired to claim that DJT has been exonerated in the Russia probe. In an interview to defend Trump's firing of Comey, Kellyanne Conway meets her match, someone who calls her on her deceptive alt-facts answers.
(4) The two sides of the upcoming presidential election story in Iran:
One side: A heartfelt essay (in Persian) by a Facebook friend, explaining why she will vote. She argues that, imperfect as the choices are, the act of voting strengthens the second word in the "Islamic Republic" oxymoron and has real implications for avoiding or facilitating armed conflict with the West.
The other side: This essay is by another Facebook friend who believes that in these sham elections, Iran's dictatorial regime is playing the game of "good cop, bad cop" with its reform-minded and hard-line candidates.
(5) Joke of the day: Q: Why did the physics teacher break up with the biology teacher? A: No chemistry.
(6) A step in the right direction: I have criticized Trump's Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for her lack of educational experience and archaic views. Let me also give her credit where credit is due. She has banned rejection of grant applications over formatting errors. Grant-giving organizations, in science or other areas, have grown too bureaucratic and, rather than focus on improving their principal missions, they issue tomes of guidelines on how to format grant applications. Many would reject a grant application without review if restrictions on page-margin or abstract word-count, just to name a couple, are only slightly violated. It's absurd to pay attention to appearance before substance.
(7) UCSB is 8th among public universities in the new ranking by US News and World Report.
(8) Why healthcare premiums are rising: Part of the answer is that they have been rising at a much higher rate than inflation for many years now. Another part of the answer, which few have pointed out, is that the uncertain climate created by Trump and his supporters has made insurers antsy. Almost any business needs stable markets and policies to chart its course and to operate efficiently. When a business faces an uncertain future, it raises prices to protect itself against possible future losses. The same factor is at work at places where insurers are pulling out of the market. If Trump and the GOP wanted affordable insurance premiums, they should have reassured insurers by laying down a stable policy, rather than constantly talk of repeal, while changing the new replacement program on a daily basis, as they tried to bargain for more votes.
(9) The 2016 ACM Maurice Wilkes Award: Named after one of the pioneers of computer design and architecture, the award is given annually to an early-career researcher who has made an outstanding contribution to computer architecture. Timothy Sherwood, my colleague from UCSB's Computer Science Department, is the 2016 receipient of the award. [From: IEEE Micro magazine, issue of March-April 2017]

2017/05/10 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cartoon showing Khamenei stuffing a man into the ballot box (1) Cartoon of the day: "Like everyone else, I have only one vote."
(2) Quote of the day: "You have the right to go to a doctor in privacy where it's just between you and the doctor. And similarly, you have to be able to go to the Web." ~ Tim Berners-Lee, Worldwide Web inventor and 2016 ACM Turing Award honoree
(3) Trump in discord with McMaster: White House insiders have talked of verbal clashes between Trump and his National Security Adviser, particularly over Trump's statement that South Korea must pay for the installation of a missile defense system to protect it against North Korea. [Source: Business Insider]
(4) The Panama Papers and dirty money: I am unsure about the reliability of the source of this article, but I, too, am surprised that the scandal wasn't given broader coverage in the US media.
(5) An insider's revelations about Khamenei: Hamid-Reza Forouzanfar talks (in Persian) about his uncle, Iran's Supreme Leader, and his transformation from a minor player before the Islamic Revolution to an absolute dictator, who runs the country via a parallel government consisting of his family members and other confidants.
(6) Eggs and tomatoes to the rescue: From when you buy a new tire to the time you replace it, 10-15 mm of thread has disappeared into thin air. The worn thread is a significant source of air pollution. Drum brakes allow particles resulting from the wear to be relatively safely stored, but disk brakes throw harmful emissions into the atmosphere. A complementary approach for reducing harmful emissions is to replace some of the toxic material in tires with certain food waste, such as eggshells and tomato skins. [Source: E&T magazine, issue of May 2017]
(7) Chip Kidd at the Santa Barbara Public Library: Appearing under the announced title "Judge Your Book by Its Cover," Kidd switched gears from his presentation mode of last night (see my post about his lecture at UCSB) to listening and discussion mode. The small audience of about 50 had brought along hardcover books with interesting dust-jacket designs, which they took turns to display on a screen via an overhead projector, explain why they chose the book and what it meant to them, and let Kidd chip in with his comments on the cover design. The intimate setting was wonderful. The essence of Kidd's comments was that if you like/enjoy a book, then its cover design will grow on you, regardless of its artistic merits. Of course, the book's cover is instrumental in attracting you to the book in the first place. The cover design is ingrained in your memory along with your recollections and opinion of the book. I was sitting next to a bookshelf of new non-fiction books and chanced upon the book, Rumi's Secret: The Life of a Sufi Poet of Love (Harper, 2017). The cover design, with its Islamic motifs of Rumi's time, is quite interesting and very appropriate for the book's content, which traces Rumi's life, stretching over 2500 miles, with many dots that may never be completely connected. The book contains translated verses attributed to Rumi. Here are three examples, from different parts of the book.
"Love stole my prayer beads and gave me poetry and song."
"Don't speak so you can hear those voices | Not yet turned into words or sounds."
"Explanations make many things clear | But love is only clear in silence."
(8) Half-dozen brief science/tech news headlines of the day:
- Chinese researchers win $1M prize for highly accurate CT-based lung cancer diagnosis (Technology Review)
- The $5M IBM Watson human-AI-collaboration XPRIZE attracts 147 participants from 22 countries (Huff Post)
- Carnegie-Mellon researchers create touchscreens by spraying paint-like material on any surface (CMU News)
- IBM sponsors research on algorithms for human odor perception from molecular properties (The Scientist)
- Oxford Univ. develops synthetic, bio-compatible, soft-tissue retina for the visually impaired (Digital Trends)
- Canada's plans to build its AI industry gets major boost from Trump's immigration moves (New York Times)
(9) Final thought for the day: "[T]he paradox is the source of the thinker's passion, and the thinker without a paradox is like a lover without feeling: a paltry mediocrity." ~ Soren Kierkergaard

2017/05/09 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Artist's rendition of the Big Bend, the planned world's longest building (1) A plan for world's longest building: To be located next to NYC's Central Park, the inverted-U-shaped building will not be the tallest, but longest, in the world. When the lengths of both sides and the curved top are added up, the total length will be 4000 feet, compared with Burj Khalifa's 2723 feet, the current record. The Big Bend, as the proposed building is called will have special elevators, with bent paths to get around the curved peak.
(2) [I jumped the gun on May 5 due to an error. Teacher Appreciation Day is today] Happy National Teacher Appreciation Day! In the US, the day is observed on Tuesday of the first full week of May. In Iran, the day was observed last week and I received several kind messages from my former students.
(3) Iran's natural beauty: A 3-minute review.
(4) Democracy distorted: Thirteen white males to draft US Senate's healthcare bill, with disproportionate impact on women and disadvantaged minorities. This is the Republicans' idea of representative democracy.
(5) Why would anyone expect an anti-vaccination guy and his cronies to fix our healthcare system? [Trump's 2014 tweet against vaccination]
(6) Yesterday in Goleta, CA: High tide on a windy afternoon, just before sundown, on UCSB's West Campus bluffs. [2-minute video]
(7) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- FBI Dierctor James Comey abruptly fired by Trump (multiple sources)
- Trump's campaign statements have disappeared from his Web site (WP)
- White House climate change meeting postponed again (AP)
- North Korean and US delegations meet quietly in Norway (IBT)
- New left-leaning South Korean president could be less friendly to US (CNBC)
- Iran's President Rouhani pelted with eggs during campaign visit in Golestan
(8) Half-dozen brief science/tech news headlines of the day:
- Unknown USAF spy plane returns from fourth classified mission (NBC)
- NV Energy to shut down last coal-fired plant in Nevada (Omaha World-Herald)
- Utilities surveyed say Trump's EO unlikely to save coal industry (ClimateWire)
- Hundreds of privacy-invading apps use ultrasonic sounds to track you (ZDNet)
- Ford plans to double its workforce in Silicon Valley (Detroit News)
- SpaceX test-fires its new giant rocket Falcon Heavy (Ars Technica)
(9) An evening with Chip Kidd: The extraordinary designer and art director talked at UCSB's Campbell Hall tonight. He has designed images that appear on dust jackets of numerous hard-cover books and has worked on many best-selling book projects. He described the process of going from ideas and images that appear in a book to a catchy, yet legible cover design that often plays a key role in the book's success. Tomorrow night, he will speak at Santa Barbara's Public Library under the title "Judge Your Book by Its Cover," where attendees are encouraged to bring their favorite book cover designs for group discussion. I am looking forward to that event. Kidd works for Knopf, a commercial publisher, so the process of getting to a final cover design often involves multiple iterations until several players (the boss, sales people, sometimes the author, and occasionally the estate of a dead author) sign off on it. These iterations can be frustrating, but more often than not, they lead to more appropriate designs that do the intended job better. In the course of tonight's talk, Kidd presented several projects, from their inceptions and initial doodles to the final product. His talk was very instructive and also filled with humor. He has a Web site and several TED talks, including this 19-minute gem.

2017/05/08 (Monday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Photo of colorful flowers in an unspecified field, with mountains in the background (1) Field of dreams (photo by Aaron Reed). [Location unknown]
(2) Quote of the day: "When you shoot a zebra in the black stripe, the white stripe dies too." ~ African proverb
(3) Universal healthcare can't be a bad idea, if it is embraced by every advanced country in the world. [Chart]
(4) Easy-listening music: For those who like light jazz, here is nearly two hours of Michael Buble's greatest hits.
(5) Retired UC Berkeley professor joins Google: David Patterson will help Google develop a chip for its Tensor Processing Unit. The new chip will run at least 10 times as fast as current processor chips and will be able to handle computations required for AI applications. Patterson, 69, whose UCLA grad-student days overlapped with mine, was a faculty member at Berkeley for 40 years. Patterson is known as inventor/promoter of the RISC and RAID concepts and author of best-selling computer architecture textbooks.
(6) How the just-elected French President defeated the hackers: The same hackers that helped Trump become US President failed in helping Marine Le Pen, because the Macron camp, having learned from the US experience, played along and planted a confusing mix of true and false information on their phishing Web sites.
(7) Obama receives "Profile in Courage" award: In his acceptance speech at the J. F. Kennedy Presidential Library, he addresses the US Congress and asks them to show courage in enacting healthcare legislation.
(8) An interesting tech blog post: Meera Collier of Cadence makes some interesting observations about an AI-related conference she attended and wonders about the dearth of women at such conferences. Here are some of my thoughts about her blog post.
Collier makes three important points. First, she notes the impact of new deep-learning techniques on visual understanding. Second, she notes the dearth of specialists in the subfield of AI known as deep learning. Third, she points to the under-representation of women in AI (and tech, more generally).
Regarding the first point, AI has oscillated between trying to mimic human behavior through understanding its underlying mechanisms and just mimicking the input-output behavior, without caring about how humans do it. The latter approach has prevailed in recent years. At one time, there was an extensive debate about whether computers can ever be considered as thinking. Edsger Dijkstra famously noted that, "The question of whether a computer can think is no more interesting than the question of whether a submarine can swim." His point was that computers can exhibit behavior that is human-like and useful, without truly thinking. Now, deep-learning programs can even exceed human capabilities in some tasks, even though an understanding of the pertinent human mechanisms still eludes us.
Regarding the second point, AI and the overlapping field of data science are enjoying a newfound popularity (in the same way that computer security did, beginning a few years ago) and the dearth of specialists in these fields will be short-lived, especially if additional tech visa restrictions are not imposed.
Regarding the third point, I could write books! In computer science and engineering, we were making good progress in attracting women, but in the past decade or so, we have been going backwards. There is general agreement (though by no means a consensus) that women have lost interest in CSE, not because universities turn them off, but because of the workplace culture, especially in start-ups that more or less demand 12-hour workdays and, even after they hire a token number of women, they do not take them seriously and do not promote them. This Fortune article about problems at Facebook is more broadly relevant. Interestingly, when women have become involved they have shown great insights and made significant contributions. A good example is provided by the black women of Hidden Figures, a book that I reviewed on May 6. The only reason those women were given a chance in the early 1940s, in an age when there was systematic discrimination against both women and blacks, was a shortage of male specialists as WW II raged. Those women turned what they thought to be six-month "war jobs" into long, distinguished careers at NASA.

2017/05/07 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Image of a woman, shown trying to pick up her shadow (1) Good advice for when you suffer a setback: Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again! Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers sing in the movie "Swing Time" (1936).
(2) Fred Astaire sings "The Way You Look Tonight" in the 1936 movie "Swing Time." And here is Frank Sinatra's marvelous version, with lyrics under the video. This more modern interpretation by Michael Buble isn't bad either.
(3) Introducing the next great blues singer! [3-minute video]
(4) The 11 most-beautiful mathematical equations: My favorite is Euler's formula, a surprising identity that relates the number of vertices, edges, and faces in a planar graph.
(5) Let the Senate fight begin: Kamala Harris, a fresh Democratic face in the US Senate from California, plans to fight Trumpcare tooth and nail. Contact her office and give her the needed ammunition!
(6) AI aims at predicting Supreme Court rulings: A new study suggests artificial intelligence can outperform legal scholars (77% accuracy, vs. 66%) in the prediction of US Supreme Court rulings. Using the Supreme Court database for 1816-2015 and drawing on 16 elements of each justice's vote, researchers built a model that uncovered associations between case elements and decision outcomes. The model then examined the features of each case for a given year to anticipate rulings, and was fed data about the rulings so it could update its approach and move on to the next year. [Source: Science]
(7) Quote of the day: "[Trump's presidency] is worse than any horror story I've written." ~ Author Stephen King
(8) A long-time conservative talks about Trump: I liked George Will at one time, many years ago (when I read his columns), but he turned too conservative for my taste. So, it is striking that he is writing and talking about Trump having a dangerous disability.
(9) Trump is being sued: Atheists to challenge Trump in court over his executive order allowing religious non-profit organizations to meddle in politics. This case may lead to the first true test of the Supreme Court with its new composition.

2017/05/06 (Saturday): Book review: Shetterly, Margot Lee, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, William Morrow, 2016.
Cover image of the book 'Hidden Figures' If asked to name women who were influential in the development of computing technology and applications, most people would only be able to identify a couple: Perhaps Ada Byron Lovelace and Admiral Grace Murray Hopper. Many other female mathematicians and computer scientists, who helped advance computer science and engineering, remain nameless and faceless. This book, and the successful 2016 movie based on it, have brought some of these faces, who served as human computers to the forefront. What makes the group of women in this book even more remarkable is that they were black, at a time when segregation was still in effect and even white women weren't taken seriously in technical fields.
Margot Lee Shetterly, a non-fiction writer, grew up in Hampton, VA, where she came to know many of the women whose lives are described in this book. She has also worked in investment banking and media start-ups, according to Wikipedia. She has won a Sloan Fellowship and several other honors. The 346-page book is well-researched. It ends with a 5-page acknowledgment section, 56 pages of notes, and an 18-page index.
The hidden figures of this book gained a foothold in the early 1940s, when, as a result of the war effort, there was a severe shortage of male technical talent to draw upon, while, simultaneously, there was a greater need for designing and testing airplanes. Later, the space race triggered by the Soviet launch of the Sputnik made aeronautical and space research even more urgent. Two executive orders (EO 8802, on the desegregation of the defense industry, and EO 9346, creating the Fair Employment Practices Committee) were also instrumental in opening doors to women and blacks.
The book's protagonists even had a hard time attending college, let alone emerge as leading scientists and technologist. There were black colleges for undergraduate work, but when it came to more advanced training, they had to fight their way into colleges where they were not very welcome and were expected to fail. At work, they were kept in positions below their level of talent and abilities and were often excluded from meetings where they could contribute immensely. The women began by doing routine calculations, but quickly rose in expertise and stature, and were thus assigned more demanding tasks.
A lot was going on at NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics), later to become NASA, and other research units at the time. In addition to building, testing, and improving planes for the war effort, the US was at the verge of breaking the Mach barrier, an effort that produced trans-sonic, super-sonic, and hyper-sonic flight ideas in rapid succession.
Much of the book is devoted to the women's personal stories, including the neighborhoods where they lived, how they commuted to work, challenges of going to the bathroom and eating at the cafeteria in a segregated work environment, their family dynamics, and so on. The social impact of their careers was wide-ranging. The diversity of the workforce at Langley turned it into a kind of race-relations lab. An interesting social consequence of the war years was husbands (soldiers and other military personnel) returning home to grown, independent women they barely recognized.
Discrimination was severest against black women, but was by no means limited to them. Irish and Jewish women were also discriminated against, as were married women. In time, the Langley management relaxed the enforcement of separate bathroom and lunchroom rules, a la the "don't ask, don't tell" policy of many years later regarding gay military personnel. The sensitive nature of the work at Langley caused extra scrutiny of those who worked there, especially in the wake of the Rosenberg Trials, which put all left-leaning individuals working for the US government under growing suspicion.
Langley eventually endeavored into space research, at first a bit reluctantly, but rushing to put together a space program, once the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik satellite, kicking off the space race. Americans were told that Sputnik was mapping the US in order to select the best targets for H-bombs. In a similar way, the initial resistance to electronic digital computers as replacements for human computers gave way to enthusiastic pursuit, and "the girls," as the human computers were known, began learning the needed skills. They observed, rightly, that the days of computing with calculators were coming to an end.
Shetterly writes that Katherine Coleman signed her first research report as "Katherine G. Johnson," shortly after getting married in 1959. It's a shame that her own family did not get to enjoy any of the credit and name recognition. Similarly, KGJ's greatest accomplishment, that of calculating the precise requirements for the Lunar Landing Module to be able to take off and meet the Lunar Orbiter, so that Apollo 11 astronauts could return safely, is recorded under her married name. KGJ has received numerous honors, including 3 honorary doctorates and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
As I read Shetterly's book, I was mostly interested in finding out about the technical contributions of the women and how they fit into the grand scheme of scientific research and technical innovation at NASA. I found some of the detours into childhood stories and other details a tad boring. But, one cannot gain a proper appreciation of the enormity of what these women accomplished without learning about the additional obstacles, be they economic disadvantage, racial inequality, gender discrimination, and confidence-shattering professional treatment, which they had to face.
The human computers had gone to Langley for what they thought would be 6-month war jobs, but they ended up establishing careers and growing old there. The fact that, at the time of Sputnik, 1/3 of all Soviet engineering graduates were women, whereas in the US, women were struggling to find a way in, may have played a key role in the US falling behind in the space race.
This book and the movie based on it have done much to raise awareness about the challenges faced by colored people in breaking the barriers of work in predominantly white work environments and industries and the enormous national gain that would result from removing all such barriers. Alas, something that does not seem to be in the cards over the next few years.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]

2017/05/05 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Washington's Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Rainier in one photo frame (1) Three volcanoes in one frame: This amazing Washington photo captures Mt. Hood (foreground), Mt. Adams (right), and Mt. Rainier.
(2) In the school of life, everyone's a teacher. If you are willing to learn, everyone has something to teach you. Happy Teachers' Day!
(3) Wonderful guitar music: Theme from "The Dear Hunter" ("Cavatina") played by two guitarists and a symphony orchestra. Enjoy!
(4) Behind the lies of Holocaust denial: Holocaust denial has gained some momentum in recent years. In this new 16-minute TEDx talk, Deborah Lipstadt wonders about how the best-documented genocide in history came to be denied and what the denials mean. [P.S.: The excellent movie "Denial," which I watched last week, is the story of a lawsuit brought against Lipstadt in the UK by a Holocaust denier; she won!]
(5) A young Paul Anka sings a medley of his most recognizable songs.
(6) A fascinating film: Opening in theaters on June 16, "Score: A Film Music Documentary" celebrates the contribution of music in telling more compelling stories. Just try to imagine "ET" or any James Bond film without its iconic score.
(7) A group of Iranian miners who perished in a mine collapse a few days ago. [Photo]
(8) Trump's wealthy cabinet will collectively gain an estimated $1.5 billion from his plan to abolish the estate tax, cleverly labeled "death tax" to garner support (a la fictitious "death panels," invented for Obamacare).
(9) Truly sickening: This cleric uses his young daughter to illustrate the wrong and right ways for women to cover themselves according to Islamic edicts. [10-minute video]

2017/05/04 (Thursday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Victims of 'hono' killings whose photos appear on the memorial page of Karma Nirvana (1) 'Honor' killings: Victims from around the world on the memorial page of Karma Nirvana, a UK charity helping victims of honor-based violence and their families. The UN estimates that 5,000 women and girls die in honor killings worldwide per year. A new despicable trend is the killers taking the victims to other countries where laws against honor killings are laxer. [Source: Newsweek on-line]
(2) Cartoon caption of the day: Husband to wife, as he works in his home-office: "I don't remember—do I work at home or do I live at work?"
(3) Three prominent Civil-War historians take on Trump's ignorant comments about it.
(4) Trump's ad campaign: The guy who said during his presidential run that he didn't need to spend any money on ads unleashed a $1.5 million ad campaign to tout the "successes" of his first 100 days as President!
(5) Half-dozen science and technology news headlines of the day:
- British and other European techies vie to fight fake news in election season (NYT)
- China hits milestone in developing quantum computers (South China Morning Post)
- British researchers develop most accurate 3D model of the human face (Science)
- Twitter data could have predicted outcome of Brexit vote (University of Surrey)
- Cassini encountered less dust than expected in gap between Saturn, rings (LA Times)
- First humans arrived in North America 116,000 years earlier than thought (Sci News)
(6) Twenty House Republicans and 193 Democrats vote "no" on the Obamacare repeal/replace legislation, but it passes narrowly 217-213-1. Trumpcare (aka Obamacare Light) now goes to the Senate! All 14 Republican House members from California voted "yes" on the bill.
(7) Science communication is important: Ira Flatow, host of NPR's "Science Friday," spoke at UCSB's Campbell Hall tonight under the title "Are You Sure? Science, Communication, and Uncertainty." He began with some self-deprecating humor, quipping "I have a face for the radio" and observing that, as a non-scientist, he is usually the dumbest person in the room when he talks with scientist.
Flatow began his role as an explainer of science on the first Earth Day in 1970. His career has been devoted to improving the public's understanding of science and the important role played by scientists in how we live our lives. According to Flatow, half of all Americans don't know how long it takes for the Earth to go once around the sun and a quarter still think that the Earth is the center of our Solar System. On the other hand, people's hatred of science is a myth, because 80% of the public loves science.
Whereas science denial has afflicted our leaders, the public's love for science is evident in the wave of commercially successful and critically acclaimed movies ("The Imitation Game," "The Theory of Everything," "The Martian") and vastly popular TV shows ("The Big Bang Theory," "Scorpion," "Limitless," and the return of "MacGyver"). To spread awareness about science, we need to follow the 95% solution, a reference to the fact that only 5% of the average American's time is spent in the classroom.
Education of politicians is more of a challenge these days. Flatow related the experience of a former NOAA chief who had gone to Congress to ask for funding to replace aging weather satellites. One member of Congress told her that he did not need her freaking weather satellites, because he got all the weather info he needed from the Weather Channel. Contrary to popular belief, scientists do not shy away form engaging in public policy debates; 87% say that they favor greater engagement.
In the course of his lecture, Flatow played sound recordings and showed short video clips to stress his points. One such video was a song by Barber Lab Quartet, which aims to get girls interested in science, while presenting a realistic picture of what lab work entails.
Viewing the problem from the other side, scientists must also be trained to be effective communicators and be able to convey their messages through modern media. On TV, for example, the average soundbite has shrunk from 8 seconds a few years ago, and 15 seconds before that, to just 4 seconds. TV news, which used to be in the business of providing information, has deteriorated to just trying to fill the space between commercials. Scientists must adjust to the new landscape by practicing and refining their messages so that they can make their main points within the shorter time-slices they have.
An interesting occurrence during the Q&A period was a female questioner offering Flatow a pink hat that she had knit during the lecture. Flatow accepted the gift, but quipped that he was sorry the lecture was so boring!

2017/05/03 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
A tree, painted in four panels corresponding to the four seasons (1) A tree representing the four seasons (the artist is unknown to me). And here is a second tree.
(2) Wonderful Iranian music, with some Verdi thrown in: This 50-minute video contains Chorale de Bahar's "Silk Road 2" concert, featuring Darya Dadvar. Enjoy!
(3) Aerial view of Santa Barbara's breakwater and harbor. [1-minute video]
(4) Einstein's theory survives a new quantum test: But unification of the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics is still elusive.
(5) The corporate campus: Nicoletti's, the coffee shop operating at UCSB's University Center, has been closed and a small temporary operation is set up in front of it, while the premises are prepared for a Starbucks franchise. The new facility will provide broader choices, as well as some familiarity and comfort to campus visitors. Nevertheless, it is sad to see the trend toward elimination of smaller outlets in favor of giant chain businesses.
(6) Trump blames the US Constitution for not getting much done during his first 100 days: Although he had previously claimed that no President had done as much in his first 100 days!
(7) Flip-flopper-in-chief: Trump has not only reneged on countless campaign promises, he has completely reversed a number of them. It seems that he didn't know what he was talking about; and still doesn't.
(8) Joke of the day: Weighing scale to its user: "$50 or I'll tweet this out!" [Credit: Margaret Martonosi's May 1 IoT lecture at UCSB]
(9) Phishing e-mail attack via Google Docs: My department's IT team has notified the staff not to click on links within e-mails that pretend to be sharing something via Google Docs. Google has confirmed that it has now fixed the attack and disabled the offending accounts, but you should remain alert.

2017/05/02 (Tuesday): Here are four items of potential interest.
Hands holding letters that spell 'Teaching' (1) Still learning after 44 years of teaching: Today, I attended a workshop entitled "Teaching in the Present," which was conducted by Ailish Riggs Darmody (Lecturer, UCSB Department of Theater and Dance) and Celia Alario (Lecturer, Bren School of Environmental Science and Management). Effective teaching entails performance and story-telling, hence the relevance of the theater perspective.
The lecturers stressed the importance of one-on-one interaction with students, getting rid of our "invisible gag" (a past event that may have contributed to our fear of public speaking or reduced our effectiveness), using exercises to loosen up before teaching, motion in the classroom (as opposed to stationary lecturing), revealing yourself by relating personal experiences and vulnerabilities, voice variation in terms of pitch, speed, volume, and emphasis, and, of course, body language.
Make sure students perceive you as talking to them, by establishing eye contact and engaging in personal interactions (to the extent that the size of the class allows). Make direct statements without sugar-coating your words. Use group activities in class when the subject matter allows. It is okay to use intervals of silence to allow your statements to "land," and then repeat if necessary. Reciting tongue-twisters is a good way of warming up your articulators.
(2) Academic social media: Janneke Adema, a research fellow at Center for Disruptive Media, Coventry University (UK), spoke this morning at the UCSB Library under the title "Academia.edu & Self-Branding: The Metricisation of Scolars and Scholarly Networks." Having grown uncomfortable with the daily e-mails I receive from ResearchGate and LinkedIn, both of which treat the academic enterprise like a sport match (hey, you received another endorsement/citation, your publications got 5 more reads, so and so published a paper which cites your work), I welcomed the chance of attending this talk.
Academia.edu, ResearchGate, and a number of other Web sites are for-profit businesses that ask researchers to provide them with free content (researchers' profiles and publications) and make money by selling the information they collect, in the form of premium services, sponsored content, and information packages. Researchers fear that their research may receive less visibility than their competitors' if they do not participate. Once you upload your information, however, there seems to be no way to withdraw, and PDF copies of your publications become the property of the service provider.
While entities such as ResearchGate lure researchers by touting the advantages of free access to their publications and thus higher visibility and impact, their service model isn't "open access," because other researchers must register and provide personal information before they can access the posted research.
A dilemma faced by academic researchers is whether they should try to become active participants in such sites (e.g., by serving as volunteer editors) with the hope of improving the service, or to refrain from participation to protest the abuse of free information they provide. Interestingly, such sites do have some benefits, such as getting immediate feedback on one's work and discovering works by other researchers with similar profiles. However, author scores and other quantitative measures of research "success," which are derived based on obscure algorithms, are viewed as damaging.
There are non-profit alternatives to these for-profit services and more are being developed. The Humanities Commons is one such service that is run by academics for academics, as is Domains of One's Own. I have developed and manage my own Web site for posting my detailed profile and publications, but doing so deprives one of the benefits of collaboration and networking.
(3) Imperial presidency: DoJ claims in lawsuit that the President has the authority to fire the head of CFPB, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This may be a precursor of abolishing the agency altogether.
(4) Tech joke of the day: In the near future, after the Internet of Things has become established, salespeople, who now ask you if you care to purchase an extended warranty for your applicance, will ask: "Can I interest you in a firewall for your toaster?" [Credit: Margaret Martonosi's IoT lecture at UCSB, yesterday]

2017/05/01 (Monday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Photo of today's speaker, Dr. Margaret Martonosi (1) Lecture on the Internet of Things (IoT): Dr. Margaret Martonosi of Princeton University spoke this afternoon under the title "Internet of Things: History and Hype, Technology and Policy" at UCSB's Corwin Pavilion. Dr. Martonosi recently ended an engagement with the US State Department as a Jefferson Fellow, a program that has been suspended under the Trump administration. In her role as a resident scientist at the State Department, Dr. Martonosi served as the go-to person on information technology questions and helped formulate US contributions or positions on various technical exchanges and agreements. An example international program that required expert advice is the November 2015 Israeli-Palestinian 3G communication agreement.
Some believe that IoT is more hype than substance. All new technological innovations begin with unrealistic expectations, which peak with increased hype but eventually settle on a more realistic development course, after a post-hype drop. IoT has just passed the said peak and is dropping to the stage of developing practical solutions and applications. Current proposed applications are vast, ranging from very useful farming (irrigation control), health-monitoring, and traffic solutions to weird ideas such as an internet-enabled fork that tells you if you are eating too fast! The 2025 projected IoT market is $4-11 trillion.
In studying IoT, issues to be considered pertain to users, policymakers, technologists, and system architects. Dr. Martonosi's research spans the four layers named above, but in today's lecture, she emphasized energy and security issues.
Concerning energy efficiency, IoT devices must be built to use energy frugally, both to improve battery life and to limit possible problems from heat generation (e.g., in implanted devices, whose overheating can harm human tissues). One key idea is balancing compute energy vs. communication energy. The ensuing trade-off may dictate a deviation from current cloud-based computing strategy that delegates all significant processing functions to the cloud, leading to bare-bones local or "edge" devices. Doing more computation locally (using the "edge-computing" or "near-data-computing" paradigms) may allow the use of energy-efficient computation to save on energy-intensive communication.
Concerning security, compromised IoT isn't a problem only for your devices or your home network, but possibly for the entire Internet. It has been demonstrated that data anonymously aggregated in databases can be manipulated to compromise privacy by using side information available from public sources. A celebrated example from the mid 1990s is an MIT graduate student's extraction of medical information for Governor Weld from a large, anonymized medical records database, using publicly available voter records that allowed her to zoom in on the data of interest via a process of elimination (only 6 of the people in the data set shared the governor's birth date, only 3 were men, only 1 had his zip code).
(2) Help for wildlife: Bald eagle, that lost part of its beak due to being shot in the face, gets a 3D-printed beak.
(3) Automatic translation: On-line language translators are still imperfect, but they fill an important need in allowing people not reading a given language gain access to news stories and other material in that language.
(4) Renewable energy: China is now first in the world in producing energy from solar cells.
(5) Tourists enjoying Iranian cuisine at Parhami Traditional House in Shiraz.
(6) Cartoon of the day: About the recent March for Climate in Washington, DC. "Three percent of scientists say this protest isn't happening." [Image]

Photo of Dr. Pedram Khosronejad lecturing and Dr. Nayereh Tohidi standing to the side 2017/04/30 (Sunday): Today's UCLA lecture on Iran: Dr. Pedram Khosronejad, Farzaneh Family Scholar and Associate Director for Iranian and Persian Gulf Studies at Oklahoma State University, spoke in Persian under the title "Iran-Iraq War and the Creation of the Sacred Defense Art." He will deliver a different talk in English tomorrow at UCLA ("Lost Souls: Photography of African Eunuchs & Female Servants in Qajar Iran," Monday, May 1, 4:00 PM, 365 Humanities Building, UCLA campus).
The 8-year Iran-Iraq War, lasting from September 1980 to August 1988 (Shahrivar 1359 to Mordad 1367 in the Iranian calendar) was perhaps the most defining event in Iran after the Islamic Revolution. Most accounts of the war are one-sided, either told from the viewpoint of Iranian authorities or described by Western observers who have very little in terms of first-hand knowledge and less of a motivation to be impartial. The Iraqi side of the story has never been told, due to that country's instability ever since the war ended. Many of the required documents needed to reconstruct the Iraqi view of the war are unavailable to scholars and other observers.
The speaker lived in Iran as a school-boy during the entire duration of the war and was distressed by bombings and other hostilities, as well as by the loss of his classmates, teachers, and other people he knew, either directly taken by the war or forced to relocate in its wake. There is a lot more to do in terms of documenting the war and its aftermath. New discoveries are still being made, including bodies of fighters lost and never recovered.
The terms used in Iran for the 8-year war with Iraq are "The Imposed War" (because it was Iraq that attacked Iran) and "The Sacred Defense" (referring to sacrifices made by a large number of fighters and their families to defend Iran and the role faith played in such sacrifices). Horror stories abound about what the Iraqi army did to military personnel and civilians once they captured certain areas of Iran, to the extent that some men are known to have killed their female family members so as to prevent their capture by Iraqi forces.
With the context above, Dr. Khosronejad proceeded to enumerate and briefly demonstrate in his slides a number of influential artists, the styles and philosophies they pursued, and their creations. Much of the art went away after the war, leaving little impact, the possible exception being a number of feature-length movies. Efforts are underway to recover and study the art of the Iran-Iraq war and influences that led to their creation, but progress is rather slow. The talk's focus was on art that was created in direct connection with the war, not art that was indirectly influenced by the war and its immense casualties, in deaths and serious injuries, including suffering from chemical attacks on the battlefields and afterwards.
Some of the domains Dr. Khosonejad touched upon are graphics, painting, murals, photography, literature (historical accounts, novels, memoirs, and poetry), and film (both documentaries and history-based and fictional stories). Because of the focus on the work being done and preservation efforts of a particular organization in Iran, music was not discussed, but the speaker acknowledged that there is much to study in the area of music, which unfortunately has not been not documented in print.
Dr. Khosronejad is the editor of two books directly related to his talk today: Unburied Memories: The Politics of Bodies of Sacred Defense Martyrs in Iran, and Iranian Sacred Defense Cinema: Religion, Martyrdom and National Identity. I end this summary with my English translation of a Persian poem by Qeysar Aminpour [1959-2007], which appeared on the speakers final slide.
A martyr, who lay dying on the ground | Dipped his finger in his own blood and wrote | Hoping for real victory | Not in war | But against war

2017/04/29 (Saturday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
(1) Trading data suggests that UK official stats are being provided to some investors prior to their publication.
(2) Pope Francis gives a surprise TED talk: Speaking from Vatican via a big screen, rather than on stage, the Pope aimed his message at tech leaders and other powerful people. "How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion. How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us. How wonderful would it be if solidarity—this beautiful and, at times, inconvenient word—were not simply reduced to social work and became, instead, the default attitude in political, economic and scientific choices, as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples and countries."
(3) A math teacher's road to success: This article features Reyhaneh Khaze, a highly effective math teacher at Flint Hill Upper School in Washington, DC. She is described as a Baha'i refugee from Iran.
(4) Political exchange of the week: President Donald Trump, to Reuters: "[The presidency] is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier."
David Frum, GWB's speechwriter, in a series of tweets: Yes, "Nobody could have known the presidency was hard."
"All this information was cunningly concealed by being put in books and other forms of writing."
"Also, nobody could have known that 2 year old tweets are retrievable."
(5) Two pages from an old Iranian school text: The lesson on these pages is about the letter "heh" and its four variations (initial, middle, terminal, and solo). The text sings the praises of the Shah and Empress Farah, but let me refrain from political commentary here!
(6) Cartoon of the day: Germans seem to be having a lot of fun! ["Todesspiel" means "death match."] [Image]
(7) Final thought for the day: I leave you with this image, which reflects what's spinning in my head, after a full day of working on revisions of technical papers.

2017/04/28 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Donald Knuth marched for science last Saturday (1) "The Donald" of computer science lets The Donald know about his YUGE support for science: Donald Knuth of Stanford University, a highly-respected researcher and a prolific author, is best known for his multi-volume opus, The Art of Computer Programming.
(2) Comedian Seth Meyers on Trump presidency's first 100 days.
(3) Wonderful combinations of math and art: Sculptures that move and transform into endless designs.
(4) Joke of the day: A public-school teacher was arrested today at JFK Airport, as he tried to board a flight while in possession of weapons of math instruction (a ruler, a protractor, a compass, a calculator). An unnamed security official said he believes the man is a member of the notorious Al Gebra movement, whose members use secret names such as 'X' and 'Y' and refer to themselves as 'unknowns.'
(5) The first microprocessor built entirely of flexible material: Vienna University of Technology researchers have constructed a 1-bit microprocessor out of a flexible 2D material by using a transition-metal dichalcogenide (TMD), which is composed of crystals only one layer of atoms or molecules thick. TMDs form into layers similar to graphene, but unlike graphene, are semiconductors. The Vienna team deposited two-molecule-thick layers of molybdenum disulfide on a silicon substrate etched with their circuit design and separated by a layer of aluminum oxide. The microprocessor uses a set of only four instructions, but the team believes the device can be shrunk while boosting its complexity, thus allowing extension to multi-bit data. [Source: ACM Tech News]
(6) Misogyny continues in Iran: Iranian athlete permanently banned from her sport for appearing sans hijab in a photo. Shiva Amini was a member of the national women's futsal team for 4 years. Recently, she has been involved in coaching and playing for clubs.
(7) 'Frozen' isn't your typical 'princess' story, and therein lies its success: "To understand the psychology behind 'Frozen' Mania, in 2015, CNN reached out to psychologists who are sisters themselves: Yalda Uhls is regional director for Common Sense Media. Maryam Kia-Keating is an associate professor of clinical psychology at University of California, Santa Barbara. Here is our edited conversation."
(8) UCSB Engineering's 50th anniversary alumni reception: Many engineering alumni, campus administrators, and college faculty and staff were on hand to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of our College of Engineering. Before the college got its own corner of the campus, it was housed in the Arts Building. There aren't many engineering programs in the world that have come this far to become a world leader in only five decades. I am proud to have been part of this success story for three decades (I was hired in 1987, but couldn't join physically until 1988, due to visa delays). The shiny metal container seen next to the speakersin these photos is a time capsule being filled with college memorabilia, to be opened in 25 years. Unlike most time capsules, it won't be buried but will be showcased in a special display in the main engineering building. This 2-minute video captures the mood of the reception.
(9) Final Image for the day: Life is full of surprises, good and bad. Enjoy the good and ignore the bad.

2017/04/27 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Smiling Iranian children, looking out a window (1) Happiness is a state of mind: It does not depend on worldly possessions.
(2) Quote of the day: "If Google were created from scratch today, much of it would be learned, not coded." ~ Jeff Dean, Google Senior Fellow, Systems and Infrastructures Group
(3) Judges are all bad, except the ones who rule in Trump's favor or dismiss lawsuits brought against him. [WSJ article]
(4) Patriarchy in action: The potential next president of France is 24 years younger than his wife and is constantly ridiculed for the age difference. But the US President being 24 years older than his wife seems to be no problem. [Read in Persian, with images]
(5) Science aficionados making their points with humor during last Saturday's protest marches in 600+ cities. [Sign held by a protester]
(6) Challenging English assignment: Decode this sentence and transform it into a grammatically correct one.
(7) Facebook friend request: Today, I received a Facebook friend request from a gorgeous blond woman, who is single and lives in North Carolina. Her FB profile contains a single photo and nothing else. There are hundreds of individuals on the friends list of this gorgeous blond woman, if indeed she is good-looking, a blond, or even a woman! This request is easy to dismiss as fraudulent, but I receive friend requests from other impostors and scammers, who are way more sophisticated in their approach. Be vigilant!
(8) Talk on graph databases: Today's 18th edition of the Benjamin Lecture, a vehicle which allows UCSB's Department of Geography to bring outstanding researchers in geographic information science (GIS) to campus, was delivered by Dr. Claudia Bauzer-Medeiras, Professor of Databases at Brazil's University of Campinas. The full title of her talk was "Discovering and Clearing Paths through the World—The Pros and Cons of Graph Databases."
Relational databases (essentially, tables of facts) are currently the most common tools for organizing data. Their main advantages are their more or less standardized structures and query interfaces. Graph databases, which provide a more natural semantics for queries involving paths and movements, are gaining in popularity, but they are not standardized in structure of query interface.
The speaker has used a graph database, and its query language Cypher, to study an outbreak of yellow fever in parts of Brazil with low incidence of vaccination. It was discovered that the spread of the disease had been facilitated by a river flowing through the affected areas, and this spatial relationship made the problem ideal for tackling via a graph database. Other promising applications of graph databases are in archaeology and in compiling organism profiles that allow scientists to study various species from different perspectives.
(9) Muslims in America: Author and essayist Laila Lalami (Professor of Creative Writing at UC Riverside) spoke at UCSB's Campbell Hall tonight under the title "Muslims in America: A Secret History." Born in Morocco and educated in England and the US, Lalami has authored a collection of short stories, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, the novel Secret Son, and the historical novel The Moor's Account, in addition to numerous short, non-fiction pieces.
Lalami began by making two key points. First, Muslims constitute about 1% of Americans, yet, judging by the number of media stories about this tiny minority, most people would guess the fraction to be much higher. The same misconception is seen in many European countries, where, as in America, Muslims are viewed as an undifferentiated mass, rather than as a collection of individuals. Second, Muslims are often viewed as new immigrants, whereas their history in America goes back to the 1700s and even earlier. About 20% of African slaves brought to America were Muslims who were forcibly converted.
The "secret history" in the title refers to a history erased owing to the fact that Muslims were, for the most part, powerless and uneducated, so they did not leave much of a trace in history. For example, very few people know that a Spanish contingent landing in Florida in the 1500s included a black Moraccan, who, somewhat surprisingly outsurvived, many other members of the group, even though he did not enjoy the same privileges or even food ration. Despite the long history, the first mosque in America was not built until 1902 (in North Carolina).

2017/04/26 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Cover image of Time magazine for its issue featuring 'The 100 Most-Infulential People' (1) The Time-100 issue is out: Normally, I would offer several posts about the annual list, but, with a few exceptions noted below, I am not very excited about this year's selections. There are the predictable Pope Francis, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Theresa May, Kim Jung Un, and several famous entertainers, atheletes, and business titans, alongside questionable choices such as Reince Priebus, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Major General Qasem Soleimani of Iran's Quds Force, James Comey, Julian Asange, Stephen Bannon, Rebekah Mercer, and RuPaul. In many cases, who wrote the testimonial is more telling than the selected person. Examples include Paul Ryan writing about Trump, Mikail Gorbachev about Putin, and John McCain about Comey. I was delighted to see the following five choices (Elizabeth Warren is also a great choice, but I am excluding her and a number of others whose appeal isn't universal).
- The four organizers of the Women's March on Washington
- Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor
- Civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis
- Journalist and women's rights advocate Gretchen Carlson
- Actress extraordinaire and Oscar-winner Emma Stone
(2) US Senators, all 100 of them, to go to the White House for North Korea briefing: Perhaps there is a fear that the Senate Chamber might be bugged, or Trump wants to show the Senators who the boss is.
(3) Horrendous day: The next time you think you had a bad day, remember this video.
(4) Quote of the day: "So, uh, what's been going on while I've been gone?" ~ Former US President Barack Obama, beginning a panel discussion at University of Chicago
(5) Made-up news headline of the day: "Obama's barrage of complete sentences seen as a brutal attack on Trump." ~ The Borowitz Report
(6) Trump's AP interview transcripts: Full of blatant examples of unintelligible, mangled sentences.
(7) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Judge blocks Trump's effort to withhold money from sanctuary cities (NYT)
- Trump wants review of national monuments for rescinding/resizing (Reuters)
- Michael Flynn's troubles mount; jail time is likely (Sacramento Bee)
- Thai man hangs his daughter on Facebook Live before killing himself (WP)
- Turkish air strikes target Kurdish allies of US in Iraq and Syria (NYT)
- Lumber tariff complicates NAFTA negotiations with Canada (NYT)
(8) What goes around comes around: It seems that the Taliban, created and supported by the US to fight Afghanistan's Soviet occupiers, are now allegedly being supplied with arms by Russia to fight the US!
(9) USAFacts.org: Retired Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has started a free on-line service that contains a fully searchable database of government revenues, expenditures, and other data, at the federal, state, and local levels.

2017/04/25 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Photo of Iran's Damavand Peak at night (1) Iran's Damavand Peak (a dormant volcano) under starry skies. [Photographer unknown]
(2) The 9 types of intelligence. [Image]
(3) A cleric's open attack on Khamenei: I found this cleric's fiery speech, calling Khamenei an absolute dictator and questioning the legitimacy of IRI's most important founding principle, refreshing. He shames the Supreme Leader for sanctioning crimes against humanity and pulling the strings of all three branches of government, including the judiciary, whose indictments read like opinion pieces in conservative newspapers rather than legal documents.
(4) Jobs and careers to give way to skill-sets for addressing challenges and problems: As boundaries between traditional academic disciplines disappear and multidisciplinary areas such as bioengineering gain prominence, future workers will combine knowledge and skills from several domains, on an as-needed basis, to tackle long-term projects.
(5) Crowd estimate at Santa Barbara's Science March: The March's FB page reports that according to an SBPD report, we had 5000 marchers and that the local TV station KEYT had under-reported the crowd size. Here is what I wrote as a comment on the page. "KEYT at first said 'hundreds,' but later modified it to 'more than 1000,' both technically correct, but not accurate. My own 'scientific' estimate was 4000+. Here is how I did it. The march was at least 1/4 mile long; that's about 400 m. And it was 10 m wide on average. That's 4000 square meters of people. At a conservative estimated average of one person per square meter, we have 4000+ people. QED. :)"
(6) Another Hollywood liberal points out that the emperor has no clothes: "100 days: no wall, no Muslim ban, no health care, no tax reform, no infrastructure, one stolen Supreme Court seat, one stolen election. 1000 lies." ~ Rob Reiner tweet
(7) The US State Department is advertising for Trump businesses: Its London Embassy Web site touts the historical significance of the Mar-a-Lago resort.
(8) Iranian-American State Department official demoted and reassigned: Sahar Nowrouzzadeh had been working since July 2016 on the Secretary of State's policy team as an advisor and strategist in matters pertaining to Iran and other Persian Gulf nations. She was removed from office and reassigned after her loyalty to President Donald Trump was questioned by right-wing media outlets.
(9) Final thought for the day: Many thanks to Facebook friends, and readers of my Blog & Books Web page, who have encouraged me, publicly or privately, to continue with the types of material that I have been posting. Due to memory recall problems, for several years now, I have been taking notes and archiving nearly everything that I read or hear. Sharing some of these notes is my way of spreading the joys of learning. Blog posts also provide an archive in a form that is readily accessible to me on the go.

2017/04/24 (Monday): Here are seven items of potential interest.
Image: Persian calligraphic art (1) This beautifully rendered Persian verse means "love turns thorns into flowers." The artist is Javad Yousefi (seen on the lower left).
(2) Two genocide remembrance days in one: Today, Israelis observed Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). The US and many other countries memorialize the Holocaust on the UN-designated January 27, but the Israeli date for the event is the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan (April 24 in 2017; the Hebrew calendar is lunar, so the date fluctuates in our calendar). This year's Holocaust observance also coincides with the 102nd anniversary of the Armenian genocide of 1915 by the Ottoman Turks.
(3) Historical footage from the 1930s: Hungarian Jews dance the Hora and sing in Hebrew, oblivious to what awaits them in the not-so-distant future.
(4) Diversionary tactics: Trump resumes tweeting about Clinton and absurd phone-tapping claims to deflect attention from the tightening noose around his team's ties to Russia.
(5) Helping to outlaw gerrymandering with big data: University of Illinois researcher Wendy Tam Cho has developed an algorithm that can determine whether state legislative districts have been unfairly drawn. The application, when run on the university's Blue Waters supercomputer, produces 1 billion possible district maps using only the criteria required by state law and traditional districting principles. Because no political demographics are used to create the maps, they are inherently nonpartisan. The vast volume of produced maps would provide the court with a statistically relevant dataset from which to infer partisan intent. If a billion different maps are very different from the map being evaluated, then there is some evidence that partisanship was part of the motivation behind the alleged partisan gerrymandering. [Source: ACM Tech News]
(6) "UCSB Reads 2017" book lecture: Author Luis Alberto Urrea, whose 2010 book, Into the Beautiful North, was chosen as a common book to be read and discussed by the UCSB and SBCC communities, spoke at 8:00 o'clock in Campbell Hall tonight.
Urrea grew up in a Tijuana dump with a variety of sheds and lean-tos as accommodations. As he spoke tonight, he confided that he still isn't over how he has gone from destitute to his current acclaim, speaking to audiences in large auditoriums, becoming a successful author, and selling the TV rights of Into the Beautiful North to TNT, which plans to turn it into a series next year. He sometimes imagines how his father (a macho man, who was horrified that he wrote poetry and, as a boy scout, ran around in shorts) would feel and react if he were watching him deliver such lectures.
Urrea was the first in his family to go to college, but struggled to earn a living after graduation. He once wrote to a former professor he had at UCSD, who had gone on to Harvard, asking him for a custodial job (his dad was a custodian). The professor wrote back that he could give him a job, but he needed to submit three published pieces. Urrea then confided in some acquaintances that at Harvard, even custodians must be published! He got the job, which jump-started his career as a writer/poet. Urrea believes that writing truly saved his life.
Urrea grew up in a colorful family. His dad once gave him a Spanish translation of Homer's works and told him he should study those works in the original Spanish language. He had an assortment of weird cousins and an eccentric aunt, who gave rise to the characters in his book, a comedic fictional adventure. The protagonist is Nayeli, a girl whose father went to work in the US when she was young. She sets out to find her father and six other men from her now nearly man-less village to bring them back to protect the village from bandits, a la "The Magnificent Seven" of movie fame. Urrea knew a young girl by this name and promised her to base the heroine of his book on her, at a time when the girl suffered a trauma.
Urrea is working on his next book, The House of Broken Angels, and has another project also in the works, besides his collaboration with TNT on the upcoming series. Urrea made sure in his negotiations that the real Nayeli would get a share of the TNT series' revenue.
Urrea's lecture was a mixture of funny and touching stories. He is a gifted story-teller who can hold the attention of a large audience for an extended period of time. If someone were outside Campbell Hall, the roar of laughter coming from inside would have convinced him/her that the program was a stand-up comedy routine!
(7) Final thought for the day: You can't break someone's spirit any more than you can break water. If our spirit seems broken, it's because we think it's broken, not because it actually is. [Thought (not an exact quote) from Jewel's autobiography, Never Broken: Songs are Only Half the Story, to which I am listening now]

Cover image of Megyn Kelly's memoir, 'Settle for More' 2017/04/23 (Sunday): Book review: Kelly, Megyn, Settle for More, unabridged audiobook on 9 CDs, read by the author, Harper Audio, 2016.
The forty-something Kelly is one of the world's most influential women, according to Time magazine. She has risen to the top of her field of journalism through reporting for Fox News and eventually getting her own show on the network. I have not watched Kelly's Fox News programs but have seen her interviewed on various talk shows and during her moderating and reporting of the 2016 US presidential debates. Like many Fox News personalities, Kelly is viewed with a mix of admiration and disdain.
Kelly grew up in a tough-love family, with parents who detested the trophies-for-everyone mentality. She lost her relatively young father when she was still in high school. Kelly holds her mother in high regard, but is pretty much a self-made woman. She graduated from law school in her hometown of Albany, NY, but later abandoned a lucrative legal career (in which she was on the verge of becoming a partner, and thus enjoying even greater financial rewards) to pursue her interest in the news business, which initially entailed a huge pay cut.
Kelly names Brit Hume, Bill O'Reilly, and Roger Ailes as mentors, who helped her rise through the ranks, after she was hired by Fox News. Kelly's fame skyrocketed when she was chosen as a moderator for the first Republican presidential debate in 2016. Many view Kelly as cold and calculating, and this book reinforces that image. I cite this characterization hesitantly, because she has also been a victim of the misogynistic culture at Fox News.
She got dragged into a confrontation with Donald Trump, before, during, and after the presidential debates. Trump apparently thought that Kelly owed him, because he was a key reason for her fame. What doesn't pass the smell test is that during a period of time, Trump kept sending Kelly gifts in an attempt to woo her. The fact that these gifts and some of Kelly's other dealings with Trump are being disclosed in this book for the first time, is troubling, given that she continued to report on Trump after receiving the said gifts. She claims that she was not swayed by the gifts, but what else can she say?
On her being hired by Roger Ailes, Kelly claims that Ailes was looking for an open-minded reporter, not necessarily a Republican one. This statement is at odds with what Ailes is known for and Kelly's own experiences with him (expectation of sexual favors and all). She wants us to believe that Ailes relented when she shunned his advances, in part because her legal training taught her how to handle powerful men, but the record of serial predatory conduct on Ailes' part betrays these claims. She is similarly rather kind to Bill O'Reilly, who, like Ailes, was recently dismissed by Fox News for sexual harassment allegations.
I listened to this book in parallel with the memoir of singer/songwriter Jewel, Never Broken: Songs are Only Half the Story. The contrast couldn't be greater. The warmth, modesty, and openness of Jewel leaves you with respect for a deeply damaged individual who takes responsibility for her shortcomings and vulnerabilities. Kelly, on the other hand, comes across as someone who believes she can do no wrong; despite her lecturing tone, Kelly does own up to some insecurities, but ultimately blames others for many of her problems.
It is difficult not to feel empathy for her when she describes her feud (to put it mildly) with Donald Trump, who was bent on destroying Kelly and her career. Yet, after Trump called her a bimbo on multiple occasions and hurled many other insults at her, she made amends with him and went to his office to invite him for an appearance on her show, "The Kelly File." If this isn't opportunism and exploiting the feud for money and power, then I don't know what is. Similarly, even after relating Fox News chief Roger Ailes' inappropriate behavior and of her coming forward to accuse him of sexual harassment, she is complimentary about some other aspects of her relationship with him.
Apparently, Kelly's first debate question about Trump's history of demeaning remarks about women had been leaked to him (Kelly doesn't say how or by whom), and Trump, in his typical rage, had called Fox News brass to fume the day before the debate. On the day of the debate, a self-proclaimed admirer of Kelly tried to hand her, and later sent her, a cup of Starbucks coffee (to help her on a very busy day), which she drank and immediately felt sick. She does not say directly that the person had tried to poison her, but that's an inevitable conclusion on the part of the reader. Kelly received death threats and was stalked by deranged Trump followers, which forced her to live with security personnel for a while.
Kelly goes out of her way to appear fair and unbiased, but her comments on and off the air betray her leanings and agenda. She has opined on air that both Santa and Jesus were white men, and kids deserve to know these facts. She has also opined about systematic discrimination in the US being illusory and likening America to a "cupcake nation."
I recommend the perusal of this book, if only because Kelly's stature in the news business warrants a study of her life and psyche. Her commanding voice makes her reading of the audiobook compelling. In fact, one piece of advice she gives to newswomen with soft, feminine voices is to undergo voice training, if they want to get ahead in the business.
I have given Settle for More 3 stars on GoodReads. Of the book's 1848 Amazon reviews, more than 3/4 come with 4-star (15%) or 5-star (61%) ratings. But there is a sizable minority of reviewers (1 in 6 or 16%) who rate the book 1 or 2 stars. The average Amazon rating is a respectable 4.3 stars. The average rating on GoodReads is 3.9, so Kelly's best-selling memoir has struck a chord among its readers.
[My 3-star review of Settle for More on GoodReads]

2017/04/22 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Getting ready for the March for Science, wearing my special T-shirt (1) Today's March for Science in Santa Barbara: Thousands of supporters of science and evidence-based policy-making gathered in De la Guerra Plaza and later marched on State Street, first moving east to the waterfront and then marching north towards Alameda Park, where Earth Day Festival was held. The protesters marched mostly in silence, holding signs about the importance of science, STEM education, and respect for truth and evidence. In these photos from the march, I have tried to capture the front, middle, and back of the crowd, some of the signs, and a number of SB landmarks, as the marchers passed by them. State Senator Hanna Beth Jackson's fiery speech was the first in a series of short talks at the rally preceding the march.
(2) Bill Mahr: Let's put Earth first; Let's make Earth great again!
(3) Today we are celebrating the Earth: But let's not forget the amazing universe in which our Earth lives. Watch this Hubble Space Telescope compilation on a big screen, if you can.
(4) For science aficionados: The Science News Aggregator site Scikon, established in 2012, lists top-10 abbreviated headlines from important publications/sites. They include Science Daily, "BBC News Science," "ABC Science," Scientific American, New Scientist, Nature, and "Science News." Scikon also includes "Top Stories" and "Most Popular News" sections.
(5) Google's AI now gives answers, not just search results: The world's most popular search engine has evolved from a mere string matcher to a powerful deduction machine that uses deep neural networks to extract information from wherever it can find it, including Web sites, databases, and even YouTube videos.
(6) The first major attempt to circumvent economic sanctions on Russia: Exxon applies for a waiver of Russia sanctions to allow it to do oil drilling in that country.
(7) Recognizing speech from EEG signals: Toyohashi University of Technology researchers in Japan have developed technology that can recognize the digits 0-9 with 90% accuracy using electroencephalogram (EEG) readings while a human subject recites the numbers. The technology can also recognize 18 types of Japanese monosyllables from EEG signals with 60% accuracy. The goal is to develop a brain-computer interface that recognizes unvoiced speech, or speech imagery. The technology could enable people who have lost their vocal ability to speak once again. [Source: ACM Tech News]
(8) A personal history in Hebrew: This book was sent to me by a friend from Israel, who tells me that it contains the autobiography of someone who immigrated from Iran's Kurdistan to Jerusalem. His story overlaps with those of my father's and mother's families, who lived in the small town of Saghez at the same time. My father's family eventually moved to Tehran, while most of my mother's relatives immigrated to Israel. I don't read Hebrew, but I am anxious to find some way (maybe OCR with auto-translate?) to read sections of this book to learn more about my family's history in Kurdistan. I typed the text on the book's front cover via an on-line Hebrew keyboard and got a partial translation.
| ??? | ??? | Childhood, Growing up, Mission, Backwoods, Settlement | Personal Story | Benyamin Cohen
(9) Final thought for the day: "Climate change will not go away by removing its mention from a Web site." ~ My wording, based on sentiments expressed during today's March for Science in Santa Barbara

2017/04/21 (Friday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
(1) Partisan science policy: With deep cuts for science agencies in Trump's proposed budget, some wonder why NASA has escaped relatively unscathed, its budget being cut by less than 1%. One key reason is that NASA enjoys broad support among Republicans in the US Congress. This, in turn, is because "a lot of the NASA facilities are in Republican states and districts," according to Chris Edwards, Cato Institute's Director of Tax Policy Studies.
(2) Happy to be marching for science with fellow Santa Barbarans tomorrow, starting at 11:00 in De la Guerra Plaza: Already, 2000 people have indicated that they are going and 3000+ have shown interest on the event's Facebook page.
(3) California drought, then and now, in pictures: Good to see our beautiful state returning to its old self.
(4) Is Trump grooming his son-in-law to follow him as President? Or perhaps he is dreaming about the first husband-and-wife team on the ticket as candidates for President and Vice President.
(5) Early human society in New Mexico was run by maternal elite: Chacoan People of 1000 years ago lived in Great Houses with hundreds of rooms, dug from stone. Genetic analysis of Chacoan bodies has revealed that they were run by women, whose elite status was passed down through the maternal line from 800 to 1130 CE.
(6) It's a scorching 90 degrees here in Santa Barbara: This new small backpack of mine, which arrived yesterday and has two mesh pockets for water bottles, came in handy today, as I went for my 3-mile afternoon walk. I just returned home, soaking wet from the heat!
(7) More take-aways from a mindfulness workshop: Yesterday, during the lunch hour, I attended the fourth and final session of a mindfulness workshop offered to faculty and staff by UCSB's Center for Mindfulness and Human Potential, a research center established with the aim of putting mindfulness programs on an evidence-based (scientific) path. Mindfulness allows you to focus on the present and to let go of the need for constantly analyzing the past and fretting about the future and to quit the habit of classifying everything into good or bad and right or wrong. If you catch yourself over-analyzing a situation, try to return to the present and your natural state of mind. One of today's exercises was to describe ourselves with verbs (the normal tendency is to use nouns, such as father, teacher, and so on). We were instructed to come up with one verb or perhaps two. My choice was 'wonder,' and I had to explain the reason for my choice to a partner sitting next to me. I considered other candidate verbs (learn, teach, support, guide, doubt), before choosing wonder. When you describe yourself as a verb, you move from a fixed mindset to motion and flow. Another exercise was to think about the past, the future, and their relationships to the present. We learned that the past is nothing but memories and thoughts of your experiences, both arising in the present. Similarly, the future is simply anticipations that live in the present. So, the present, which starts now and ends now (that is, it has no dimension) actually is expansive and holds everything. After the end of the class, I thanked the instructor and asked if one can say that the present is actually nothing but a vehicle for thinking about the past and anticipating the future. He answered that there is nothing wrong with thinking about the present in this way, provided it does not cause problems and anxieties. If it does, then one should use the mindfulness method to return to one's natural state of mind.
(8) A final thought: Early in life, one strives to become an adult. Late in life, one aspires to be like a child.

2017/04/20 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Photo of Walter Guido Vincenti (1) Walter Guido Vincenti, engineer extraordinaire: Today marks the centennial of the birth of a highly influential, yet most unassuming engineer. Vincenti was an innovative aeronautical engineer and also a deep thinker, whose 1990 book, What Engineers Know and How They Know It: Analytical Studies from Aeronautical History, is a significant contribution to both engineering and history. Vincenti's book advances the argument that engineering is a distinct intellectual endeavor and not merely an applied version of science. The book's examples are drawn from aeronautics, but the lessons and conclusions apply much more broadly. This NASA Oral History Interview was conducted on July 15, 2014, at Vincenti's Palo Alto home.
(2) Fox fires Bill O'Reilly and strips his name from the show he hosted: This is tantamount to admission of guilt over the accusations that Fox and O'Reilly paid a total of $13 million to women who alleged sexual harassment. O'Reilly's contract had just been renewed, so he will likely walk out with millions of dollars.
(3) Keith Urban's wonderful rendition of "To Love Somebody" at the recent Grammy Salute to the Music of the Bee Gees.
(4) The puzzle of Ahmadinejad: The former Iranian president has tossed his hat into the ring of presidential election, coming up on May 19, despite direct orders from Supreme Leader Khamenei that he should stay out. Why is he doing this, and why is the regime tolerating his disobedience, whereas it imprisons many Iranians for the slightest criticism of the top mullah? A prevailing theory is that during his 8-year presidential term, which gave him access to secret intelligence files of the Islamic Republic as well as documents left over from Shah's secret police, he gained access to information that, if released, can bring down many of those currently in power.
(5) UCSB has been selected as the host of 2018 and 2020 College Cups: Lots of NCAA soccer will be coming our way in Santa Barbara! College Cup entails matches between the top four soccer teams to determine the national champion (sort of like NCCA basketball's Final Four). I just bought a soccer season ticket for 2017 and look forward to the August season start.
(6) Watch Melania nudge Donald subtly to place his hand on his heart during the playing of the US National Anthem. He was too busy admiring himself to remember.
(7) My comment on a friends Facebook post, stating "Not once in 8 years of the Obama administration, did I go to bed wondering if WW III would start tomorrow": But it will be the greatest World War, an unprecedented World War, with the most beautiful weapons and largest casualties. It will be led from the command center at Mar-a-Lago, and the commanders will be served the most amazing dishes and chocolate desserts. The first two WWs will look puny by comparison!
(8) The ungrateful refugee: This heartfelt essay by Dina Nayeri, published in The Guardian, touches on many important points on how refugees are treated in the West and how they cope as they try to integrate into a new society. Nayeri's mother was imprisoned and threatened with execution in Iran, after she converted to Christianity. Nayeri went through the refugee/immigrant experience, first in the US and then in France, after she got married. And here is Kayhan London's Persian translation of Dina Nayeri's essay.
(9) Final thought for the day: Every time you pick up a book to read, a tree smiles in afterlife.

2017/04/19 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
(1) Mini-concerts at UCSB's Music Bowl: The World Music Series noon performances on Wednesdays, co-sponsored by our Music Department and Multicultural Center, continue this quarter, but because I teach 12-2 on Mondays and Wednesdays, I am unable to attend. Looking forward to resuming participation next fall.
(2) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- SCE and GE launch world's first hybrid battery, gas turbine systems (AP)
- Boeing to lay off 100s of engineers due to slow aircraft sales (USA Today)
- March for Science to be held in 500+ cities on Saturday, April 22 (NYT)
- Killer in Facebook Live murder broadcast commits suicide (Inside Edition)
- Bannon's sidelining complicates Breitbart relationship with Trump (CNN)
- China OKs trademarks for Ivanka's company on day she met with Xi (CNN)
(3) Bannon's next move anxiously anticipated: There is no question that he is out as a trusted adviser to Trump. What remains a mystery is whether he will stick around, clinging to his limited power, or will depart to become an adversary to 45.
(4) Here's a question for you: When Amazon tells you that only one (or 2 or 3) of an item remains in stock, should we believe it, or is it just a sales gimmick?
(5) Jet Blue Airbus lands safely at LAX after nose-gear failure: This 4-minute video is from 5 years ago, but I found it quite interesting.
(6) This young woman is 19: She is allowed to vote but not to choose her clothes. She is defying two of the backward, misogynistic rules of the Islamic Republic of Iran by riding a bike without a headscarf (and doing so in front of a soccer stadium into which she is not allowed).
(7) Bill Nye joins the March for Science as an honorary co-chair: In this live video, he talks about why the March is important and urges everyone to show up to send a message to lawmakers that our life on Earth wouldn't be possible without science. In his words, you can't take parts off an aircraft and still expect it to fly.
(8) Quote of the day: "The hardest thing to understand in the world is the income tax." ~ Albert Einstein [This isn't a fake quote, as I first thought: It's really from Einstein; I have checked it against several sources!]
(9) CSUN Professor Ponders What It Means to be Muslim in America: This is the heading of an April 17, 2017, news release by California State University Northridge, where Dr. Nayereh Tohidi is Gender and Women's Studies Professor and Director of the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Program. I found it an informative read.

2017/04/18 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Santa Barbar Earth Day 2017 logo (1) Santa Barbara Earth Day 2017: Celebrating Earth Day has its origins in the Santa Barbara area, where the massive 1969 oil spill inspired activists to strive for protecting our planet from similar calamities. Twenty million Americans took to the streets and gathered in auditoriums nationwide on April 22, 1970, to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment. The initiative led to bipartisan action in Congress, producing the Environmental Protection Agency as well as the passage of Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.
(2) Precision marching: The only accomplishment of totalitarianism.
(3) If 100 people lived on earth: Visualizing various subpopulations for better understanding of our world.
(4) Woman runs in Boston Marathon again after 50 years: In 1967, Katherine Switzer registered as "K. V. Switzer" to hide her gender and was almost kicked out of the race a few miles after she began, when an official learned about her trick to enter the all-male race. Today, she ran the race at age 70, surrounded by a large group of supportive women.
(5) This is huuuuuuge: Bill Nye (The Science Guy) to take over the Facebook page for Science March tomorrow.
(6) Half-dozen brief technology news headlines of the day:
- Apple awarded California permit for testing driverless cars (Bloomberg)
- University of Idaho students hospitalized after rocket-fuel explosion (WP)
- SpaceX begins second round of Hyperloop Pod Competition (Fortune)
- Lucid Motors emerges as a serious competitor to Tesla (USA Today)
- SoE Perry orders study of electric grid to boost coal, nuclear (Bloomberg)
- NASA captures images of mysterious crack in a Greenland glacier (IBT)
(7) Foggy/misty morning at UC Santa Barbara, captured in 2 panoramic photos of the campus lagoon today.
(8) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- Killer of Google exec jogger in MA identified after 8 months (ABC News)
- South Korea's ousted president indicted and could get life in prison (PBS)
- Erdogan gains extended powers by a slim referendum victory (NY Times)
- Trump indicates that he will not release his 2016 tax return either (CNN)
- Trump calls for probe into last weekend's tax-day protesters (NBC)
- Man who posted video of killing an old man on Facebook sought (CNN)
(9) Facebook and other social media at a crossroad: Posting of gruesome videos of rape and murder, live as they happen or after the fact, has become a serious problem that current countermeasures don't adequately address. Facebook users have no taste for being exposed to gruesome material with no warning whatsoever and worry that their children and other loved ones can be traumatized by such videos, which remain available hours after they have been posted. Facebook says that it is addressing the problem diligently, but this may be just a statement for public consumption, given FB's fear of losing millions of users over the incidents.

Cover image for 'Taxation: A Very Short Introduction'

2017/04/17 (Monday): Book review: Smith, Stephen, Taxation: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, 2015.
This is another fine volume in Oxford's "A Very Short Introduction Series," a collection established more than two decades ago and now containing hundreds of volumes which make diverse topics accessible to non-specialists. At 131 pp., Taxation is shorter than most other volumes in the series, yet it packs a lot of information on the design and implementation of tax policies.
In very rough terms, taxes are about 1/4 of income in the US, 2/5 in the EU, and 1/3 in the UK. As late as the 19th century, taxes constituted less than 10% of the national income (7% in the US). Progressive taxes are generally preferred to regressive ones. However, even when the income tax is progressive, the overall tax burden can be regressive because of the many indirect taxes.
Between 1965 and 2011, income tax, as a fraction of total taxes collected, has remained fairly constant at about 1/4, whereas social-security and sales taxes have increased, while excise taxes have decreased, by more than 50% in each case. In absolute terms, taxes collected nearly quadrupled in constant dollars between 1965 to 2011. Share of tariffs in tax revenues has seen steady decline in most countries, as they participate in freer trade.
Chart showing the tax burden as a fraction of GDP in various countries This chart, from the book's p. 9, depicts the level of taxation as a percentage of GDP in 1965 (white bars) and 2012 (black bars). Taxation costs are of two types. One is the direct costs of tax collection infrastructure ($40 per head in the US; BP75 per head in the UK). Another is compliance costs for individuals and organizations. Just for income tax, each US citizen spends $250 on compliance (about BP60 in the UK).
Efficiency in tax collection is often at odds with the fairness of the tax burden. Income tax is easier to manage due to the relatively small number of origination points where withholding can take place and monitored. Consumption taxes are more difficult to manage due to the large number of transactions that are distributed throughout the economy. Consumption tax comes in the form of value-added tax (VAT) or sales tax. VAT can be 20% or more, whereas sales tax is generally less than 10%.
Chart showing hoew the tax burden is divided between producers and consumers The next diagram, from p. 34 of the book, helps us understand how the burden of a new tax is shared between producers and consumers, using the economic notions of supply and demand. A new tax will raise the prices, leading to a new equilibrium point in the market. The darkly shaded area is the buyers burden and the lightly shaded area is the sellers share.
Raising income taxes has a complex effect on the supply side of the labor market. Some may choose to work less (or not at all), because the (added) income isn't worth it. Others may choose to work more to maintain the same level of after-tax income. Extensive research has shown that raising taxes tends to reduce the labor supply, with the effect being more pronounced for young people with children.
One way of assessing whether a new tax is advisable is to determine whose standard of living will fall when the tax is imposed; this isn't always easy to do. Because of complex interactions in the market, the burden of corporate profit taxes does not fall solely on the share-holders; new research shows that employees end up paying a big share.
Taxes, once imposed, tend to survive, even if the original needs for them disappear. This is because tax reform entail trade-offs and thus have political costs. No one likes taxes, but they are considered necessary evils. Try to imagine a situation where mandatory taxes were abolished and, instead, citizens made donations to their government. Before the establishment of money, taxes consisted of in-kind (crops) and labor (service in the army) contributions. There are tax records dating back to 3300 BCE in the cuneiform clay tablets from Mesopotamia (today's Iraq).
Cheating on taxes is a sensitive topic. Most people would not admit that they do cheat. Cheating is prevalent in many Asian countries, and much less so in Europe. A 2001 US study found the level of evasion for individuals to be around 9% and for corporations around 17% of the total revenue due.
There is an ongoing discussion about optimal taxation: a scheme that would raise the needed revenues but minimizes the excess burden on tax-payers. This is mostly a theoretical discussion, as the mechanisms to implement optimal taxation would be too complex and thus expensive. It is also unclear what should be taxed: wealth, income, or a combination thereof. There have been proposals for taxing earnings potential, rather than actual earnings, the latter being viewed as providing a disincentive for work by some. On the other hand, taxing earning potential might force a person to earn at a level equal or exceeding the taxed level, preventing people from living simpler lives.
Taxation is ultimately a political issue. The optimal tax scheme derived from equations and theorems may be unrealizable, given short-term political goals. Flat tax is more common in Eastern Europe, with the rate being around 25%. Russia has a flat tax rate of 13%. Politically, a flat tax rate is difficult to sell, because most swing voters are in the middle of income scale, whereas flat tax provides the highest benefits to the poor and to the very rich.
I highly recommend this valuable book to everyone who wants to learn about tax policies and their effects on businesses and individuals. I have summarized some of the key concepts presented in the book, but the book contains many more ideas and much more detail about what appears in this review.

2017/04/16 (Sunday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Smiley pills! Street sign for an alley in Tehran named 'Behrooz' The Cat in the Hat has a message for Mr. Trump! Pork ribs on sale for Passover! (1) After starting today with a dose of happiness, I came across the street sign for a Tehran alley named after me (the "Behrooz" alley), a Dr. Suess coffee mug bearing a message for 45 from the Cat in the Hat, and a store sign advertising pork spare ribs on sale, apparently as a Passover special!
(2) Wishing everyone a happy Easter Sunday!
(3) Stealing your PIN and other info from your phone's various sensors: "Researchers at Newcastle University in the UK have demonstrated that malicious websites and installed applications can spy on people by exploiting movement data from smartphone sensors. The researchers say the movement data can be used to compromise people's four-digit PINs with 70-percent accuracy on the first guess. 'Because mobile apps and websites don't need to ask permission to access most of them, malicious programs can covertly listen in on your sensor data and use it to discover a wide range of sensitive information about you,' says Newcastle's Maryam Mehrnezhad. The researchers found 25 distinct sensors that are standard elements on most smart devices, providing information about devices and users. 'Because there is no uniform way of managing sensors across the industry, they pose a real threat to our personal security,' Mehrnezhad notes." [From: ACM Tech News]
(4) The three MOABs, according to Mark Cuban: "Mother of all bafoons dropped mother of all bombs to create DISTRACTION from mother of all betrayals. Don't get distracted."
(5) Part of Malala Yousafzai's speech at the Canadian parliament on the occasion of being granted honorary Canadian citizenship. Did you know that Justin Trudeau does yoga and has tattoos?
(6) Rare image of England, as it leaves the European Union. [Photo]
(7) Tehran municipality's misogynistic posters: Displayed on the occasion of the Iranian version of Fathers'/Men's Day, they all urge women to attend to their husbands' needs. This one counsels that men should be left alone occasionally, to feel free from marriage bonds and to engage in recreation and other fun activities, because they get tired from the daily grind!
(8) Very bad news from around the world: The top five countries in number of executions are China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Pakistan. The US shows some improvement by no longer being among the top 5. [Chart]
(9) Wholesale energy prices went negative in California for a short while: Solar energy represented 13% of California's power last year, but for three hours on March 11, 2017, some 40% of the net grid power came from solar farms. This abundance of energy caused wholesale market prices to dip and go below zero. Of course, consumers did not see any benefit, because retail pricing is based on averages, not transient conditions. But this highly unusual event will cause energy companies to pay more attention to renewable sources. The solar industry now employs more than a quarter of a million people. [Source: USA Today]

2017/04/15 (Saturday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Vertical poles which cast no shadow when the sun is directly overhead (1) Lahaina Noon: The shadowless poles in this photo look unreal, as if they come from the screen of a cheap video game. Lahaina Noon is the name given by Hawaiians to the phenomenon of straight vertical poles casting no shadow when the sun is directly overhead. Hawaii is the only state in the US where this can happen.
(2) A wonderful couplet from Abu-Saeed Abolkheir. My English translation follows.
The dew of love turned dirt into essence | Generating much discord and excitement
The needle of love poked the soul's vein | Letting out a drop, later named the heart
(3) Tesla's affordable long-range electric vehicle to be unveiled in July: With prices starting at $35,000 and a 215-mile electric range, Tesla Model 3 will compete with Chevy Bolt. Tesla already has hundreds of thousands of pre-orders for the car and plans to dramatically ramp up production in 2018 to 500,000 annually.
(4) Carpinteria's Salt Marsh Reserve: Just off the 101 Freeway, some 10 miles south of Santa Barbara, sits a pristine coastal ecosystem in the middle of a city.
(5) Santa Barbara's March for Science (April 22, 2017; Earth Day) has announced its list of speakers for the pre-march rally at De la Guerra Plaza (11:00 AM).
(6) Science/Tech news story of the day: Smartphone fingerprint security feature is less secure than you think. Michigan State University researchers have published a paper in IEEE Trans. Information Forensics and Security, claiming that with a set of artificial 'masterprints,' they can trick phones into allowing them access 65% of the time. One reason is that the fingerprint sample taken by the phone is fairly small. A second reason is that a match is indicated if any one of internally stored images is matched. These findings are being disputed, because the tests were not conducted on real phones under real operating conditions. Apple, for example, claims that improper authorization occurs only once in 50,000 instances. Google has declined to comment.
(7) Bicycles for those who can't afford them: Teacher Katie Blomquist raised $80,000 and used it to buy every single student in South Carolina's Pepperhill Elementary a bicycle. [Source: Time magazine, April 17, 2017]
(8) UCSD researchers make themselves look like empty car seats: Their aim is to observe driver and pedestrian responses to driverless cars by wearing costumes resembling empty car seats.
(9) Final thought for the day: In Iran, there are many minority groups. Besides those based on religion and ethnicity, there is a minority of women with their original noses! [From multiple Internet sources]

Cover image of Oxford book 'The U.S. Congress: A Very Short Introduction' 2017/04/14 (Friday): Book review: Ritchie, Donald A., The U.S. Congress: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, 2nd ed., 2016.
After reading American Political Parties and Elections: A Very Short Introduction (see my review), I decided to peruse this book to expand my knowledge of the American political system in the wake of what happened in 2016. Like other books in Oxford's "A Very Short Introduction" series, this volume packs a lot of information in its 146 pocket-size pages, and it has an informal and highly accessible writing style. In the book's preface, the author indicates that even though he has spent his entire professional career on Capitol Hill, he has refrained from being defensive or apologetic, aiming instead to provide a description of how the US Congress works, how it has changed, and how it relates to the states, the voters, and other government branches.
Let me begin by listing the titles of the six chapters, that are followed by 6 pages of further readings and viewings (films).
Chapter 1. The Great Compromise    Chapter 2. Campaigns and Constituents    Chapter 3. In Committee
Chapter 4. On the Floor    Chapter 5. Checks and Balances    Chapter 6. The Capitol Complex
Although "compromise" has become a dirty word in our country's current political climate, the structure of the Congress itself arose from the "Great Compromise," being set halfway between proportional representation (the House) and state parity (the Senate). Though organized differently and having different internal procedures, the two parts of the Congress have equal power, in that "no bill can become law until both houses pass it with exactly the same wording, down to the last semicolon."
The size difference between the House of Representative and the Senate has led to different internal structures and rules for efficient operation. The House is much more hierarchical, having a speaker, for example, whereas the Senate structure is flatter, with Senators acting more or less independently. Both Congressmen and Senators strive to introduce (sponsor) important legislation to build up their reputations and cement their legacies, but as Harry Truman once said, a legislator's greatest accomplishment is often preventing bad laws from passing.
The rules of both houses are archaic and, at times, nonsensical. For example, it is possible to request the reading aloud of a bill of more than 100 pages as a delaying tactic against its passing. Some functions of the Congress are largely ceremonial. For example, in the important area of confirming cabinet nominees, some 95% of all candidates presented are approved. The approval rate is lower for Supreme Court nominees (2/3), largely because their term is indefinite and may span the terms of multiple Presidents.
In the Senate, opponents of a bill may hold the floor through filibuster (from the Dutch word meaning freebooter or pirate). However, the debate may be cut off and a vote forced if 60 Senators vote to do so (the number 60 was arrived at over time, after periods in which 75 or 67 votes were needed). For nearly 50 years, filibuster was a tool of Southern Senators who were intent on blocking Civil Rights legislation. Since parties rarely enjoy majorities greater than 60, the filibuster rule prevents passing of controversial legislation on straight party-lines.
One interesting observation is that a Representative's 2-year term allows no room for political maneuvering, whereas it is said that a Senator's 6-year term permits him/her to spend 2 years as a statesman, 2 years as a politician, and 2 years as a demagogue! An important power of Congress is its investigating authority, which is broad and not necessarily tied to specific legislation under consideration. Younger members of Congress have embraced new technologies and regularly use electronic newsletters, Web-based polling, and social-media communication. By the early 2000s, e-mail accounted for 80% of all correspondence.
As the people's house, the Capitol Building is open to visitors year-round. The typical American visits the Capitol twice in his/her lifetime, once as a kid (with family or on a school trip) and once as an adult, perhaps taking the kids to visit. The history of how the Capitol and its surrounding office buildings developed into their current sizes and complexities is an interesting one.

2017/04/13 (Thursday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Cartoon: Phonetically defined (1) Cartoon of the day: Phonetically defined (by John Atkinson)
(2) Nine brief news headlines of the day:
- Malala Yusafzai granted honorary Canadian citizenship (CNN)
- Assad claims chemical attack in Syria 100 percent fabrication (AFP)
- Dragged United passenger's troubled past a case of mistaken identity
- Trump backtracks on 5 major campaign promises in 12-hour period
- First female Muslim US judge found dead in Hudson River (Reuters)
- Heartbroken Ivanka urged Donald Trump to bomb Syria (Newsweek)
- NASA discovers 'alien habitat' on Saturn's moon Enceladus (Yahoo)
- Trump says strained US-Russia relations may be at all-time low (AP)
- US targets ISIS in Afghanistan with largest-ever non-nuclear bomb
(3) A math puzzle: Take a 3-digit number x with its first and last digits different (say, 542). Reverse the number and subtract the smaller of the two from the larger one, calling the difference y (e.g., 542 – 245 = 297). If the difference is not a 3-digit number, precede it with zeros to make it a 3-digit number (e.g., 99 becomes 099). Add the reverse of y to y (e.g., 297 + 792 = 1089). Why is the final answer always 1089, regardless of the starting number? This puzzle can be the basis of a magic trick, where you direct someone to pick a number and go through the steps above, with you guessing the final result. Of course, you can do the trick only once!
(4) Former Soviet republics are turning into serious threats: They are the only places where a terrorist might hope to obtain nuclear material for dirty bombs. Terrorist organizations lack the sophistication to build an actual nuclear bomb, but including some radioactive material in a conventional bomb can cause a lot of direct damage from radiation and much economic damage from lost business and tourism revenues, as the wide area affected by the bomb is cleaned up. There are reasons to believe that ISIS already possesses about 40 kg of uranium compounds that were stored at a university in Mosul, when it fell to the Islamic State fighters. [Source: Time magazine, issue of April 17, 2017]
(5) Immigration history displayed: I'm so glad that these immigrants and others like them came to the US through Ellis Island, making this country a better place for later arrivals like me, through their dedication and hard work. I resolve to do the same for those who come next!
(6) Michael Towbes, prominent Santa-Barbara-area businessman and philanthropist, dead at 87.
(7) Interesting take-aways from a mindfulness workshop I attended during lunch hour today: We can operate with a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. A fixed mindset makes us hide our limitations/shortcomings in personal or professional domains, becoming very private in those areas. With a growth mindset, believing that our capacity can be expanded, we tend to be more open/sharing, and handle criticism better. Mindfulness also makes us more aware of our emotions: fears, anxieties, dislikes. Interestingly, emotions rarely last more than 90 seconds, unless we expend time and effort to extend them. We often expand/prolong the life cycle of emotions, which may do us good or be harmful to us.
(8) The Spy Who Loved Me: New Republic article about how Russian intelligence played Trump and his team.

2017/04/12 (Wednesday): Here are six items of potential interest.
Cartoon showing United Airlines security personnel dragging Bashar Assad away (1) Cartoon of the day: A possible solution for Syria's Assad problem.
(2) Brutal reaction on social media to United Airlines:
- Old slogan: 'Come Fly with Me' | New: 'Comply with Me'
- United now offers both red-eye and black-eye flights
- United Airlines: We put the 'hospital' in 'hospitality'
- UA app v. 2.1.18 supports new drag and drop feature
(3) Quote of the day: "With President Forrest Trump, every day is like a rancid box of chocolates. You never know what kind of shit you're going to get next." ~ Author Stephen King
(4) A math puzzle: Consider forming a 10 x 10 x 10 cube from 1000 sugar cubes, each of size 1 x 1 x 1. Counting all six sides, including the bottom, how many of the 1000 sugar cubes will be visible from outside?
(5) On the sorry state of our infrastructure: Much has been written about the state of disrepair of our dams, bridges, and other major structures. However, the infrastructural problems faced by the US go even deeper and hit much closer to home. Walking to work through the community of Isla Vista today, I snapped these photos showing how electricity is supplied to homes in this community of mostly student residences. Overhead power lines, with ad hoc connections along the wire may be suitable for rural areas, where miles of wire are needed to reach a few businesses or residences. In a dense community such as Isla Vista, this approach is not just ugly, but outright dangerous, especially during foul weather or overload-caused fires in the pole-mounted transformers.
(6) The Hour of Land: This was the title of a talk by Terry Tempest Williams, based on her new book by the same title and with the subtitle "A Personal Topography of America's National Parks." The talk, delivered in UCSB's Campbell Hall, was the sixth and final installment of UCSB Arts and Lectures Program's series of events honoring the centennial of the establishment of our national parks. Williams has been honored for her passionate and lyrical writings and has received Sierra Club's John Muir Award.
With the exception of an introductory acknowledgment/gratitude segment that ran a little too long, the talk was enjoyable. Another drawback, shared by nearly all talks in the humanities, was the total absence of visual aids. One would think that a talk on the US national parks presents ample opportunities for showcasing their breathtaking natural beauty, as the speaker makes her various points. In one segment, Williams imagined organizing a gathering to which she could invite only 12 guests, and wondered which 12 national parks she would invite, citing her reasons for choosing each guest (an ideal place for the use of images).
The speaker got emotional and teared up in a couple of segments. One was during her recollection of a visit to a remote region of a national park, where she was overtaken by her experiences in the pristine nature. Another time was when she related the story of her mother telling her the location of her journals, a week before passing, asking Williams not to retrieve them until she was gone. The dozens of journals from her mother all turned out to be blank, making Williams wonder whether her mother had made a statement through her blank journals. In those days, women were expected to do two things: bear children and write journals. Perhaps by leaving the journals blank, she had defied the norms.
Williams maintained that Americans love their national parks, as the parks host 300 million visitors annually. They are now in great danger as a result of policies of the new US administration. But Williams is optimistic that the American people will not let these national treasures deteriorate or sink into oblivion, and, in the end, the administration will not dare destroy them against a strong national force. In answer to a question about what we can do to help save the parks, Williams said: "Just love them."

2017/04/11 (Tuesday): Here are eight items of potential interest.
Yemen's Shibam, the oldest vertically constructed metropolis (1) Yemen's walled city of Shibam is thought to be the oldest metropolis in the world to use vertical construction.
(2) Car tries to beat train by going around crossing gates: It doesn't quite make it but, luckily, everyone survives.
(3) Actress Doris Day now knows her age: She thought she was 93, but thanks to AP, which found a copy of her birth certificate, she now knows for sure that she is 95. [Source: Time magazine, issue of April 17, 2017]
(4) Bicyles for those who can't affor them: Teacher Katie Blomquist raised $80,000 and used it to buy every single student in South Carolina's Pepperhill Elementary a bicyle. [Source: Time magazine, issue of April 17, 2017]
(5) China and US on collision course: Xi Jinping wants to make China great again. His exact words are "the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation." This puts him on a collision course with Trump, if we are to believe Steve Bannon's words, who said in an interview, "We're going to war in the South China Sea in 5 to 10 years." According to Time magazine, issue of April 17, 2017, in the 16 cases over the past 5 centuries when a rising nation threatened to replace an established world power, war occurred 12 times. So, the probability of war with China is 75%, if history is any indication.
[Note added on 4/14: Trump seems to have changed his mind about the evil of China and Bannon no longer has much influence on him. So, perhaps, the threat of war with China isn't as great any more. But then again, another flip-flop can change the situation.]
(6) Half-dozen brief headlines of the day:
- New York becomes the first US state to approve free tuition at state colleges
- Trump considering executive order to reverse offshore oil drilling ban (WP)
- Putin: Fake/planted chemical attacks will be used to discredit Assad (Reuters)
- Sean Spicer takes flack for asserting that Hitler did not use chemical weapons
- North Korea appears to be looking for confrontation with the US (Yahoo News)
- British military restorers find Saddam's stashed gold in T-54 Iraqi tank (IBT)
(7) Trusted products: The "Made in Germany" label tops the list of trusted products. "Made in USA" is 8th; Denmark 15th; Greece 25th; Brazil 30th; Iran 50th. [Source: Time magazine, issue of April 17, 2017]
(8) Canada jubilant over its tech future: Vancouver and Toronto are absorbing many foreign-born techies who reside there temporarily, until their US visas are issued, or just give up trying to get into the US and settle there permanently. Amazon alone has a staff of 700 in Vancouver. [Source: Time magazine, issue of April 17, 2017]

2017/04/10 (Monday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Passover egg-flowers (1) A very happy Passover to all those who observe it!
(2) Eight brief news headlines of the day:
- Russian accused of hacking US election arrested in Spain (Daily Mail Online)
- Three dead, one critically injured in San Bernardino school shooting (Newsweek)
- Researchers identify core brain region that manufactures dreams (Newsweek)
- Colson Whitehead wins Pulitzer for The Underground Railroad (PBS)
- David Fahrenthold wins Pulitzer for reporting on Trump's philanthropy (PBS)
- Alabama governor Robert Bentley resigns, pleads guilty to misdemeanors (AP)
- North Korea issues warning over deployment of US warships to the region (AFP)
- Former Equinox employee guns down 2 coworkers in Florida gym (People)
(3) Today's fortune-cookie message: I might have been more excited about this fortune ("Good things are coming your way") if I had ever seen one that declared bad things are coming my way!
(4) No cats, dogs, or women allowed: Reporter Masih Alinejad interviews several Iranian officials about a sign at the entrance to a stadium that listed items banned inside. The list includes guns, knives, anything that can be thrown to hurt others, cats, dogs, ... and women! Even though she received assurances that the sign will be fixed, this is likely an attempt at saving face. The way of thinking that produced the sign in the first place is much harder to fix.
(5) Tonight's pink full moon, as seen from my courtyard at 11:08 PM. [Photo]
(6) How to learn any subject using physicist Richard Feynman's technique. [6-minute video]
(7) Apt T-shirt inscription, as we approach Earth Day and Science March on April 22, 2017: "The is no Planet B"
(8) Kansas City's World War I Museum was a focus of attention on April 6, as we marked the 100th anniversary of America's entry into "The Great War."
(9) Final thought for the day: "If in workplace after workplace you can't get along with your colleagues, something is wrong ... Go get the mirror. Hurry." ~ Psychiatrists Jody J. Foster and Michelle Joy, in their advice book, The Schmuck in My Office, about how to deal with problem colleagues

Photo of the speaker, Dr. Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak 2017/04/09 (Sunday): UCLA lecture on Iran (Today, 161 Dodd Hall, 4:00-6:00).
The speaker, Dr. Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, a Professor of Persian Language, Literature, and Culture at University of Maryland, who is on a visiting appointment at UCLA, spoke under the title "Literature: Its Existence and Its Appearance." This was a book talk for the speaker's latest volume (in Persian) by the same title, which is an edited collection of his prior writings on Persian literature (ISBN 978-1595845382). Dr. Karimi-Hakkak has written/edited 23 books and published 100+ articles. One of his books, The Dawn of Modernism in Persian Poetry, is a highly-regarded textbook used in doctoral programs on Persian literature.
Dr. Karimi-Hakkak indicated that his retirement project will be a multi-volume work on the history of Persian poetry, which will be in Persian, because in Dr. Karimi-Hakkak's opinion, English works on the Persian literature tend to be much less influential, as they are read only by a small number of academics. The book will focus on the Islamic period. Much less information is available from the pre-Islamic period; besides, the speaker is unfamiliar with Middle Persian, the language of the time.
Iran's history is intertwined with poetry, to the extent that poetry is perhaps the most important art form in Iran, and it constitutes one of the main components of the Iranian identity. Poetry thrived in Iran after the Arab invasion for several reasons. First, it is an inexpensive art form that anyone can pursue; all that is needed is a piece of paper and a pencil. Second, it is perhaps the only art form that is sanctioned by Islam.
The central role of poetry in the Iranian culture persuaded nearly all kings to personally engage in the art form, the only recent exceptions being the two Pahlavi kings. Even after the Islamic Revolution, both Leaders (Khomeini and Khamenei) wrote poems. Khomeini's mystical poems lent credence to the school of thought that considers references by Hafiz to wine, beloved, and other potentially worldly desires as being metaphors for God and the pursuit of the scriptures. An interesting question to ponder is the prevalence of advice-giving ("andarz") in Persian literature and the role they play in the Iranian society.
The central role of poetry also brings it to the pages of elementary school textbooks. This love for, and central place of, poetry may be viewed as a plus, but it can also be viewed as diverting the students' attention from social studies and civic engagement. Even the least literate among Iranians can recite poems and parables/proverbs that are derived from poetry. It appears, however, that this is a superficial familiarity with poetry and that the versions recited are often incorrect or butchered (we see this on Facebook, where a large fraction of poetry postings are either improperly attributed or contain gross errors).
Persian poetry, and literature more generally, is not confined to Iran. There are centers of activity on Persian literature outside Iran, the most notable being Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and, nowadays, major world cities such as Los Angeles and London. Tajiks' contributions have become less accessible to us in view of their changing their script. At one point in the past, India was also a major center of Persian literature, but the Persian language slowly died there, given that it was a sort of royal language and not the language of the masses.
Dr. Karimi-Hakkak is of the opinion that there are two distinct kinds of mysticism ("erfan") in Persian poetry. One kind, represented by its founder Sana'ee and later by Attar and Mowlavi (Rumi), he termed "other-worldly" ("asemani"). The other kind, which he called "worldly" ("zamini" or "ejtama'ee") is represented by the works of Nezami and Sa'adi, who emphasized the centrality of love.
Poetry cannot be divorced from its social context or from traditions. Unfortunately, much of the social context and history of Persian poetry has been lost by the practice of organizing poets' collections of work ("divan") in alphabetical order of the poems' endings. In this way, we have lost the insights that could come from knowing the order of the poems' composition and the poet's evolutionary path. Reconstructing this history will take some work, which Dr. Karimi-Hakkak hopes to do in his history project.
During the Q&A period, several interesting observations were offered. Some of them are already weaved into the narrative above. One person asked whether one should bring down the classical poets from their pedestals and point to their imperfections (up to and including having sick minds and deviant behaviors). Dr. Karimi-Hakkak opined that worshiping anyone, even skillful and famous poets, is wrong and that these poets should be viewed as the imperfect human beings that they were. He cited as an example, Hafiz's nihilistic declaration that "The world and its affairs are nothing within nothing," which is at odds with modernity and sociopolitical engagement.
[See the Persian version of this summary, which follows the English text, on Facebook]

2017/04/08 (Saturday): Here are five items of potential interest.
Cartoon, showing Putin talking with Bashar Assad while on the phone with Trump (1) Cartoon of the day: Putin to Bashar Assad: "It's Trump. He's gonna bomb one of your airfields. What time's convenient?"
(2) Shampoo ad on Iranian TV: The beautiful woman in this image expects the viewer to take her words about the positive effects of the advertised shampoo at face value, without even showing a single strand of hair, let alone the kind of shiny, flowing hair one sees on American shampoo commercials!
(3) Watch out for fake (self-anointed) data scientists! [Read: "Why So Many 'Fake' Data Scientists?"]
(4) Ventura Harbor Village is one of my favorite places to visit for a stroll and/or dining on great seafood!
(5) A scientific study of why you should always order the bigger pizza: My daughter posted this study published by NPR, which uses 74,476 price points from 3678 pizza joints to argue that bigger pizzas are always more cost-effective. In one example, the amount of pizza in a 20-inch pie (costing $20.77) is equated with two 14-inch pies ($29.59) and six-and-a-quarter 8-inch pies ($51.56) [See the article's interactive chart]. Here is a comment I made on her post.
When you post something like this for scientist friends, you have to be prepared for their peer review of the claims. Having just finished the peer review of a computer engineering journal paper, I might as well use the momentum gained to review this scientific study as well.
Comparing only the areas of pizzas is somewhat misleading. I think bigger pizzas tend to be thicker. Also, the toppings do not cover the entire pizza's surface, and the width of the toppings-less edges must be considered in the comparison, because it affects the amount of nutrition you get from the pizza (assuming pizza toppings have nutritional value).
Additionally, when you buy a pizza that is twice as large and take half of it home, the enjoyment you get from the pizza is not a factor of 2 greater but only a factor of 1 + r greater, where r < 1 is the enjoyment coefficient of cold or reheated pizza.

2017/04/07 (Friday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Photo of a village with houses built of upturned boat hulls (1) Boat houses, but not in the way you are used to seeing: A seaside village in France has many houses that are built from upturned boats. The local fishermen of Equihen-Plage have lived under scavenged boat hulls for over a century. Today, their houses are used as unique holiday accommodations for curious tourists.
(2) Amazing street-drummer performance.
(3) A sample of mosque wall art designs.
(4) Three-sixty-degree view of Pink Mosque in Shiraz, Iran: Navigate by swiping.
(5) Trump's own words betray his motive for ordering air strikes on Syria: He wrote in an October 9, 2012, tweet, "Now that Obama's poll numbers are in tailspin—watch for him to launch a strike in Libya or Iran. He is desperate." Yesterday, he said that chemical bombing had a big effect on him. Since when is a president's personal feeling a legit cause for a military attack, and why is gassing 100 or so people less tolerable than hundreds of thousands killed by other means and millions turned into refugees?
(6) Woman engineer campaigns for Congress: Identifying herself as a "rocket scientist" and "data fiend," Tracy Van Houten of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory will be the first female engineer in Congress, if elected. She will campaign on fighting against climate change and advocating for data-driven approaches to infrastructure and public policy. [Source: The Christian Science Monitor]
(7) Discussion of The Underground Railroad with its author: Colson Whitehead appeared at a gathering at Santa Barbara's Public Library (Central Branch) last night to offer insights about his National-Book-Award-winning historical fiction book. This event was a complement to his formal lecture of Wednesday night as part of UCSB's Arts and Lectures Program. I have not yet read the book (I am on the waiting list for the e-book version at our local library), but could not pass up this opportunity to hear from the author first-hand about questions such as how he chose the topic for his book, his research methodology, how writing the heart-wrenching book affected him, and how the book has impacted the difficult topic of race relations in the US. Several audience members related that reading the book, which includes graphic descriptions of violence against the slaves, wasn't easy for them. Whitehead quipped that his book isn't "the Gone with the Wind version of slavery." Armed with the insights I gained tonight, I look forward to reading the book in the near future.
(8) Political discussions on Facebook lead nowhere: Duh, you might say, based on your experiences, but I keep relearning this lesson! A couple of days ago, I made the ill-advised decision to offer a few comments on the post of a dear friend (the subject of the political post is immaterial). My first comment was called an "Empty slogan" (no elaboration, just these two words). My last comment that began thus "Why does the discussion on every post have to cover the entire globe and world order? Can't we stick to the limited subject of the post ..." elicited this response: "At the best, I consider your views to be naiive and at the worst I consider them with unhealthy and untrustable intentions!" (again, a proclamation, with no reasoning or elaboration). I saw no point in continuing to interact on that post, although there were also a few reasonable comments.
(9) On getting by with what you have: Don't let a broken violin string, or a missing piece inside you, stop you from doing your best. Play your heart out with what you've got left. [Itzhac Perlman's story]

2017/04/06 (Thursday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Photos of two women data scientists (1) No, these are not models: They are data scientists, a professor (left) and a doctoral student. [Interview]
(2) Decades-old problem solved by non-career mathematician: In a little-noticed short paper, published in 2014 and entitled "A Simple Proof of the Gaussian Correlation Conjecture," Thomas Royen solved a conjecture dating back to the 1950s, the inspiration having occurred to him while brushing his teeth.
(3) On misusing statistics: Do Nicolas Cage films cause people to fall into pools and drown? Does US spending on science, space, and technology affect the number of suicides by hanging, strangulation, and suffocation? Does an increase in per capita cheese consumption lead to a corresponding rise in the number of people who die by becoming entangled in their bedsheets? Certainly not! But in all three cases, there is an eerily large positive correlation between the two trends, which may suggest causation to the uninitiated. In these examples, relating the two trends seems preposterous. Imagine how much more likely we are to go astray when a cause-effect relationship is plausible (e.g., eating a certain kind of food and obesity). [Full story, with charts]
(4) Interesting illusion: A man's head appears to detach from his neck and get reattached. See if you can figure out how it's done.
(5) Joke of the day: Stan: "My wife treats me like I am a god." Steve: "You mean she worships, honors, and obeys you?" Stan: "No, she ignores me until she wants something." [Source: AARP Bulletin, April 2017]
(6) Presidential fade-away, off-balance jump shot! [Photo of former President Obama]
(7) Half-dozen brief news headlines of the day:
- US bombs Bashar Assad's air bases in Syria; Russia stays out of the way
- Tillerson accuses Russia of failing to deliver on its promises on Syria (AP)
- Comedian Don Rickles, known for his insulting style of comedy, dead at 90
- Bannon, ousted from the NSC, at war with Jared Kushner (Business Insider)
- Devin Nunes steps down from his role in Trump-Russia House probe (AP)
- Trump defends Fox News' serial sexual harasser Bill O'Reily (People)
(8) Quote of the day: "It's a pattern with him—he sometimes counterpunches so hard he hits himself." ~ Ari Fleischer, a former press secretary, on Donald Trump
(9) Final thought for the day: It was inevitable that war would come. Just as inevitable was the Trump men falling one after the other, the latest casualties being Steve Bannon (ousted from the NSC) and Devin Nunes (stepping down from his role in the Trump-Russia probe). The unfortunate part is that the war may save Trump himself from falling.

2017/04/05 (Wednesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Image from 'Mad Magazine,' teasing Sean Spicer (1) The Sean Spicer rack: The perfect ingredients in a recipe for disaster. Includes seven unpleasant, bitter flavors. [Image credit: Mad Magazine]
(2) Every person we previously thought to be crazy now sounds sane by comparison: Ah-nold, the Governator, slams the US Congress.
(3) Gibraltar's dilemma: The tiny British Overseas Territory, with a strategic location in south Spain, is dominated by the Rock of Gibraltar and has a thriving tourist economy. It is interdependent with Spain, because many of its workers commute from Spain. Thus, free movement of people and goods from/to EU are important for its survival. With Britain's exit from EU, Gibraltar must also cut its ties, which presents a huge problem. England is unwilling to cede sovereignty to Spain and people of Gibraltar are also against such a move (shades of Hong-Kong). [Source: PBS Newshour]
(4) A popular Iranian wedding song: Rastak Ensemble's wonderful arrangement and rendition of "Vasoonak," a regional wedding song from the Fars Province, which is a staple at nearly all Persian wedding receptions.
(5) Bill O'Reilly and Fox News have paid out $13 million to five women since 2002: The hush money was paid to the women for complaints of sexual harassment and verbal abuse against the Fox News host.
(6) A chess problem that is easy for humans but super-hard for computers: The problem is said to hold the key to understanding human cognition and the limits of artificial intelligence. [White to play and draw]
(7) The woman who ran 1144 miles across Iran to prove a point to her fellow Swedes and other Europeans.
(8) Tim Berners-Lee, the just announced winner of the prestigious ACM Turing Award, known as the Nobel Prize of computing, opined in an interview yesterday that selling private citizens' browsing data is disgusting.
(9) Our Dishonest President: In this first installment of a four-part article by the Los Angeles Times editorial board, we read about how, despite knowing that Trump was a narcissist and an utterly unprepared and unqualified candidate, we were unprepared for the magnitude of the train wreck that is his presidency. It seems that no matter how many newspapers and other news outlets publish pieces like this, they are brushed aside with a few words, "dishonest media" or "fake news." The inevitable downfall may take much longer that we thought. But this is like a needed vaccine. If we survive it, we may become immune to the disease of Trump-like leaders in future. [The article contains links to the other three parts]

2017/04/04 (Tuesday): Here are nine items of potential interest.
Front page of 'Towfigh' weekly paper from the 1970s Front page of 'Towfigh' weekly paper from the 1950s (1) Political satire in Iran: As a young man, I was a regular reader of Towfigh, a weekly satirical paper that pushed the boundaries of humor in a politically oppressed society. Not everything in the paper was to my liking, but the daring aspects of the enterprise intrigued me. Jokes and cartoons could go only to the level of prime minister, as kidding the Shah was out of bounds. The paper paid dearly on the few occasions when it ridiculed the Shah, even indirectly. [Images are the paper's front page, circa 1950s (left) and 1970s]
(2)